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Sunday, June 15, 2014

New state money for open space rejected by the House

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Attempt Forest animated GIFPROVIDENCE — It’s an open-space bond without funding for open space. On June 12, House leadership rebuffed efforts to restore $3 million to buy open land as part of the $53 million Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities bond referendum.

“(Open space) is the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy," a dejected Rupert Friday, director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, said after the vote.

Despite the public’s strong support to fund open-space purchases, the House rejected an amendment to restore the money by a 48-24 vote. It’s the first time since 1985 that voters won’t have an opportunity to approve state funds for open-space protection.


“I don’t believe we should be borrowing any more at this particular time,” Rep. Raymond Gallison, D-Bristol, said. Gallison opposed the measure even though his district is currently asking the state for $580,000 to buy open space. He said the remaining $1 million in state money from the 2012 referendum will be sufficient to fund open-space purchases for two years.

The call to restore the money received support from several Republicans.

“We just gave $45 million to (pay for) a parking garage that’s going to be empty. I think we can give $3 million to open spaces,” Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, said.

“God’s not making any more of this stuff. So let’s preserve it,” said Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, who noted that these funds often attract two to three times the amount in matching dollars.
“We’re losing open spaces rapidly; we should take advantage of these opportunities to allow the people to decide these things,” Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, said.

Since 2004, about 70 percent of voters have approved funds for open-space protection. In 2012, voters approved $20 million for farmland, parks and bay restoration.

If approved by voters in November, the $53 million Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities bond funds:

  • $5 million for brownfield remediation and economic development.
  • $3 million for flood prevention.
  • $3 million for farmland protection.
  • $4 million for local recreation grants.
  • $15 million for improvement to Roger Williams Park Zoo.
  • $3 million to Roger Williams Park.
  • $20 million to the Clean Water Finance Agency.