'Dry Lands' Bill Passes House and Senate

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A bill favored by developers and opposed by the environmentalists is all but certain to become law. In the Senate on Wednesday, Sen. Erin Lynch, D-Warwick, remarked that her “dry lands” legislation is important to this year’s pro-business “moving-the-needle” package of bills. She then recognized developers Gary Ezovski and Ron Caniglia as they watched from the gallery.

“This is hopefully a good first step to really help with regulatory reform,” Lynch said.

The bill is one of more than a dozen introduced this year, she said, that are "aimed at improving the state’s business climate in response to concerns raised by those in the business community.”

S672 creates a task force to write comprehensive rules for setbacks from wetlands and septic systems. Nineteen cities and towns currently apply more stringent rules for builders than those recommended by the state. This bill removes that authority from those municipalities in order to make it easier for developers to get their applications and permits approved.

Opponents of the bill are resigned to the notion that the task force will create more stringent setback regulation so that communities with environmental concerns or those seeking to protect land from development can maintain high standards. At a May 22 Senate hearing, many communities seeking to protect their natural character and open space felt exposed.

“All wetlands are not of the same value for every community,” said Pete Ogle, chairman of the Charlestown Wastewater Management Commission.

After the the June 5 House and Senate vote, Jane Austin of Save The Bay said the task force can still protect Rhode Island’s sensitive habitats. “We have to make sure the work of the task force is thorough and comprehensive. I’m pleased to engage in the effort.”

The Senate bill passed 38-0.

A few minutes earlier, the House passed its version of the bill (H5425). “In the end, I think it’s a compromise we need to get to,” said Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston, chairman of the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources. The House bill passed 64-7. Those in rural districts such as Charlestown, New Shoreham, Richmond, Exeter and Hopkinton opposed the bill.

Both have veto-proof majorities.