Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 includes a large environmental bond worth $48.5 million to fund land and water quality improvements. It's one of four ballot initiatives the governor is proposing for November 2018.
Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, described the Green Economy and Clean Water Bond as a "big ticket item" that will help better state parks, bikeways, brownfields, drinking water and dams.
Coit said $5 million will go toward a new coastal resiliency initiative.
"That is intended to help communities mitigate and reduce flooding risks, promote green infrastructure and ensure, as we encounter sea level rise and flooding, that we continue to have public access to our 400 miles of coastline," Coit said.
Environmental groups have come out in support of the bond.
"We are pleased to see that Rhode Islanders will be given a chance to support an environmental bond this year that includes land protection, working farms and many needed infrastructure investments for clean water,” John Torgan, state director at The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island, said in a statement.
Meg Kerr, senior director of policy at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, a bird conservation organization, said in a statement the group is excited about the bond.
"We are looking forward to working with RIDEM in efforts to move (the bond) forward," Kerr wrote.
Another group, Save the Bay, agreed the bond is important for the state, but they have concerns about other parts of the budget.
"We are disappointed that no additions (to the staff) have been proposed in the governor’s budget at the (RIDEM) in the Office of Compliance and Inspection or in the Legal Office to support enforcement of environmental regulations," Jonathan Stone, executive director at Save the Bay, said.
Stone said for the past decade, the state has been reducing RIDEM’s capacity. He believes lack of staff makes it harder for the agency to issue permits quickly and conduct timely inspections of businesses to check for environmental violations before they happen.
"In this political environment, and I’m thinking specifically about what’s going on in Washington DC, there is a relaxation of enforcement nationally, as it relates to environmental regulation, and we think it’s time for Rhode Island to step up," Stone said.
Stone said a modest increase of just a few staff members would help fill the void.
Stone added there are no additions proposed for the state's Coastal Resources Management Council either. The council helps protect and manage coastal areas in Rhode Island.
Coit said given the state had a $204 million dollar deficit for fiscal year 2019, she’s glad at least no cuts had to be made.
Grover Fugate, executive director at the Coastal Resources Management Council, said in a statement he is pleased the council is maintaining it's full-time employment base.
To close the deficit, Raimondo is proposing to scoop $3 million dollars from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., the state’s central landfill operator, and $5 million dollars from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, which finances energy efficiency projects for municipalities and businesses.
Neither agency provided comment.