October 14, 2016 01:50PM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Proponents of the state’s proposed Green Economy Bond, Question 6 on the Nov. 8 ballot, say the $35 million initiative has as much potential to benefit local economies as it does to benefit ecological and recreational pursuits statewide.
Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki and Westerly Land Trust President Kelly Presley met with The Sun Tuesday to explain why the bond is so important to the region.
Konicki and Presley represent groups that have joined a “Yes on 6” coalition that includes 24 cities and towns including Westerly, Richmond and Charlestown, and a diverse range of interests, from trade unions to environmental groups.
“People choose Westerly for more than just the beaches,” Konicki said. “They choose Westerly for the arts, they choose Westerly for hiking. They choose Westerly for kayaking. They choose Westerly for a variety of outdoor recreational activities, and preserving more open space directly impacts our ability to attract a wider variety of tourists to our community.”
If voters approve it, the bond will fund several initiatives: $10 million for extension of bike paths throughout the state; $4 million each for historic state park development and state land acquisition; $5 million for brownfields remediation; $3 million for stormwater pollution prevention; $5 million for distribution to cities and towns through local recreation grants, and $4 million in open space grants.
Konicki is a member of Paths to Progress, a group of organizations seeking to expand the state’s bike paths to all areas of the state. She said the paths would also be open to runners and walkers.
“It’s the first time in history that Rhode Island will be dedicating such a significant amount of resources to what I call recreational paths,” she said.
Konicki also stressed the importance of brownfields remediation to the Westerly economy.
“The Westerly Higher Education Center that’s being built right now as a collaboration between the town, CCRI, the Chuck Royce Foundation and various other entities — that project wouldn’t happen probably if it wasn’t for the brownfields remediation money that was made available for that property, and part of this bond funds future brownfields remediation projects, so we may benefit here in our community from some other sites that could be developed in a positive manner,” she said.
Presley said the open space grants are of significant interest to the land trust.
“Open space bond funding in the past has made so many land acquisitions possible for the Westerly Land Trust,” she said. “Of our close to 1,600 acres, over 1,000 of those were protected in part with open space bond monies. Many of our preserves, the most recent Wahaneeta Preserve, the old Girl Scout camp, received open space bond monies. Clearly, having these open space dollars available for communities to apply for those grants is crucial to protecting our open spaces, wild places, and agricultural land.”
Rhode Island voters have a history of approving open space bonds, but Konicki and Presley said they were leaving nothing to chance.
“There are a lot of other bonds this year, so while this type of bond has been very popular in the past and has been well received, it’s essentially in competition with several other bonds that have well-organized supporters, and we have to make sure that this resonates with the voters of Rhode Island,” Konicki said.
Presley said the bond would provide valuable tools for protecting Rhode Island’s land and water.
“When push comes to shove, we have to protect the natural resources we have,” she said. “Our clean water to drink depends on it, our clean air, protecting agricultural lands to sustain our community and make us resilient — all these things are critical components of any community, not only for visitors coming in, but for ourselves.”