OPINION

Op-ed: We can (and should) invest in environmental infrastructure now

By JONATHAN STONE
Posted 10/28/20

By JONATHAN STONE Election season will not be over in Rhode Island on November 3. After the presidential election, the R.I. General Assembly is expected to reconvene to address major, unfinished state business: the adoption of the 2021 budget and the

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OPINION

Op-ed: We can (and should) invest in environmental infrastructure now

Posted

Election season will not be over in Rhode Island on November 3. After the presidential election, the R.I. General Assembly is expected to reconvene to address major, unfinished state business: the adoption of the 2021 budget and the scheduling of a special election to put a set of ballot questions before voters. Both the budget and the questions have been proposed by Governor Raimondo and they include the $69 million "Beaches, Clean Water and Green Bond."

The bond is a visionary proposal that would allow for new construction and upgrades to safe drinking water facilities and wastewater treatment plants ($15 million); for new and re-built community parks and recreational facilities throughout the state ($4 million); and for long-overdue improvements to state beaches, parks and campgrounds ($40 million). The economic impact of investing in our beaches, parks and campgrounds alone is significant. "The Economic Impact of Rhode Island's State Parks," a University of Rhode Island study, indicated that in 2016, state-owned beaches, parks and campgrounds hosted an impressive 9.4 million visits, generated $311.9 million in consumer spending and yielded $38.8 million in tax revenue, while supporting 3,709 jobs for Rhode Islanders.

The bond would further support the protection of the farmlands and forested lands that are essential for Rhode Island's food economy and climate strategy ($3 million), and the Municipal Resilience Program, which provides grants the cities and towns that are grappling with the impacts of climate change ($7 million).

Some may say that Rhode Island cannot afford to borrow during these tough times. To the contrary: now is the time to make long-term investments that protect our water, air, forests, farmland and communities. In written testimony to the House Finance Committee on July 29, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner stated that Rhode Island can afford to borrow for these projects, noting, "With interest rates near historic lows, this is a good time for Rhode Island to use bond financing to spur economic recovery."

What's more, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank reminds us that voter approval of $15 million for clean water projects will generate another $60 million in federal dollars - funds that should not be left on the table.

This means that the proposed "Beaches, Clean Water and Green Bond," gives the General Assembly a substantial opportunity to not only address Narragansett Bay's short- and long-term needs, and help rebuild our economy, but to also leverage millions of dollars in federal support for our recovery.

As legislators return to Smith Hill, we hope they remember how many residents depend on a clean and healthy Narragansett Bay for their livelihood and quality of life. For over four decades, Rhode Islanders have overwhelmingly voted in favor of investments in our environment, notably Narragansett Bay. We urge our representatives to approve the Governor's proposal and allow Rhode Islanders the opportunity to, once again, voice their support and cast their vote for the "Beaches, Clean Water and Green Bond."

Jonathan Stone has served as the executive director of Save The Bay since 2009.

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