Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Perhaps the least attention-grabbing of the Question 3 bond projects is the $7.9 million for drinking water, stormwater, and sewage treatment projects. There’s another $5 million earmarked for climate-change adaptation.
“I think a lot of people don’t know what we do,” Jeffrey Diehl, CEO of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, said during an Oct. 12 media event to support the $47.3 million bond question on Rhode Island’s Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The referendum money gets a massive bang for its buck thanks to debt leveraging of the Infrastructure Bank’s revolving fund. The $7.9 million allows borrowing up to $350 million for small and large projects. The voter-approved 2016 Green Economy Bond, for instance, paid to switch drinking water wells contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and chlorine in Burrillville and North Smithfield to municipal water connections.
This 2016 bond money also paid for a new water system serving a low-income community in North Tiverton and $1 million in interest-free loans for lead-pipe replacement in Providence. Sewage treatment plants in Newport and Warren received $40 million and $20 million, respectively, to protect against sea-level rise, flooding, and extreme weather. A $17 million loan program helped property owners switch from cesspools and faulty septic systems to cleaner onsite waste systems.
Since the 1980s the state’s Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission has protected more the 100 farms and 7,000 acres of farmland. The sector provides 4,000 jobs at small owner-operated farms that have grown in number with an increase in urban and young farmers. The $2 million is also leveraged with grants and matching funds raised by land trusts.
“Here is Rhode Island we don’t have big factory farms,” said Diane Lynch of the Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission.
The 2016 Green Economy Bond funded: a mile-long extension of South County’s William C. O'Neill Bike Path to Narragansett Beach; a half-mile connection along the Blackstone River Bikeway from Woonsocket to the Massachusetts line; and The First Mile bike path with bridge-bicycle shuttle in Newport.
Rhode Island’s growing bikeway miles promote stress reduction, reduce traffic, and improve physical and mental health.
The $5 million in this year’s bond would help expand and connect Rhode Island’s statewide bike network and link to bike paths in neighboring states.
“Bicycles are truly 100 percent zero-emission vehicles,” said Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport.
The 2018 Green Economy and Clean Water Bond offers $4 million for cleaning and developing polluted industrial sites, such as the Bristol Industrial Park.
Since 1995, some 800 brownfield sites in Rhode Island have been restored, while $7.4 million has been invested in 33 projects, which leveraged some $630 million in private development that led to nearly 5,000 jobs, according to state officials.
Dredging: Question 3 offers $7 million for dredging the Providence River, including portions of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers that run through downtown and Waterplace Park.
Dams: $4.4 million would fund the removal of small state-owned dams that are old and damaged.
Question 3 goes before voters Nov. 6. Here is the statewide ballot with all three voter referendum questions.