By ecoRI News staff
Leaders from a broad coalition of Rhode Island environmental, tourism, recreation and bicycle organizations have voiced support for the $35 million Green Economy Bond referendum included in the budget recently recommended for passage by House Finance Committee.
The committee noted the economic and community benefits the bond would provide for the state with investments in programs ranging from land conservation, outdoor recreation and bike paths to water pollution prevention and brownfield cleanups. If approved by the General Assembly, the Green Economy Bond will be put before voters in the November election.
“The Green Economy Bond is a prudent investment in seven proven programs that work together to boost the state’s economy and enhance our communities,” said Rupert Friday, executive director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council. “The Finance Committee understands that these programs are the backbone of open space conservation, farmland protection and park development in Rhode Island. These programs create jobs, bring in matching funding and make Rhode Islanders’ lives better.”
The Green Economy Bond would fund seven initiatives: historic state park development, $4 million; state land acquisition, $4 million; state bikeway development, $10 million; brownfield remediation and economic development, $5 million; stormwater pollution prevention, $3 million; local recreation grants, $5 million; and local open space grants, $4 million.
Since the program began in 1985, local open space grants have helped communities protect 160 properties.
“Local open space grants provide critical seed funding that helps Rhode Islanders protect the special places in their communities,” said Meg Kerr, senior policy director for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. “The open space grant program is currently out of money. The Green Economy Bond would support continued investment in the tourism and outdoor recreation industries which make our communities more livable.”
The bond’s projects have significant economic benefits, according to supporters, such as:
Outdoor recreation supports 24,000 jobs and contributes $2.4 billion annually to Rhode Island’s economy.
Matching grants and donations from foundations, federal programs, businesses and individuals provided some 60 percent of the investment to protect open space. State grants comprised only 39 percent of the value of the properties protected.
A total of $3.7 million in brownfield grants was awarded in 2015 to clean up 14 sites. The state grants were matched by $417 million in private and public investment and created an estimated 2,700 jobs.
Investments to manage stormwater in Bristol and Newport eliminated beach closures on Bristol Town Beach the past three summers and dramatically reduced beach closures at First Beach (Easton’s Beach) in Newport. In Bristol, these investments resulted in more than a tripling of municipal beach revenues.
Environmental bonds have an unparalleled level of success when put before Rhode Island voters. No bond since the initial one put on the ballot in 1985 has failed to pass, with recent bonds averaging more than a 70 percent approval rate statewide.
More than 25 Rhode Island nonprofits and coalitions have signed on in support of the Green Economy Bond, including the Aquidneck Land Trust, Bike Newport, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Coggeshall Farm Museum, the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition and The Nature Conservancy.
Those organizations have been joined by 22 city and town councils that have adopted resolutions endorsing the bond, including Charlestown, Jamestown, North Providence, Pawtucket, Westerly and Woonsocket.