Forty million dollars is a lot of clams.
That’s the amount of money that would go to finance clean water and wastewater treatment plants and to preservation of water quality, green space and farmland, plus park and recreational development if voters approve questions 5 and 6 on Nov. 6.
Yet, it was clams of another nature that illustrated what the bond issues are all about when a coalition of state and environmental organizations gathered Tuesday at Goddard Park. In fact, it was just two clams – scallops – caught earlier in the day that held the spotlight.
Warwick quahogger Jody King, along with farmer Vincent Confreda, joined officials on the platform to talk about the impact of the bonds on their livelihood and the state.
King came by boat to the press conference and brought several sacks of little necks and a pail of water. Stepping in front of the podium, King reached into the bucket and pulled out the scallops he estimated to be 1 and 2 years old. He caught them in the eelgrass off Rocky Beach and said he would be returning them to the bay.
King said he hasn’t seen scallops in the bay for at least 15 years, but now they are returning and this is evidence that the waters are cleaner. He urged passage of Questions 5 and 6, adding that, “We need to partner with all parties” to see that it happens.
“I want to come back in 20 years and say it’s better than today.” Question 5 would provide $20 million to the Clean Water Finance Agency that would leverage the funds for $100 million in federal grants to be loaned for upgrades in drinking and wastewater systems. In the case of wastewater projects, rates would be 33 percent less than the best market interest rates and water project rates would be 25 percent less, said agency executive director Anthony Simeone.
“When we get that,” Simeone said of the federal funds, “that’s when we do the magic.”
Since municipalities and authorities, such as the Warwick Sewer Authority, are borrowing the money and must repay it, Simeone said the $20 million ultimately works out to $200 million in projects.
“This is absolutely the lowest [interest] form of financing in the state,” he said.
Simeone said the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is the agency’s regulatory partner and that DEM sets the priority for project funding. He cited the combined storm water overflow, or CSO project, which is half-completed, that has dramatically reduced the flow of untreated wastewater into the bay. And he observed that plants daily release 200 million gallons of treated wastewater into the bay. His point was that enabling the Clean Water Finance Agency to provide low-cost loans will facilitate the upgrading of plants and help the bay water become cleaner.
DEM Director Janet Coit highlighted the economic impacts of the environment on tourism industry jobs and the quality of life that attracts businesses to locate here.
“With all the things the state struggles with, we get it right,” she said.
Save the Bay director Jonathan Stone said the environment is “what defines our state, we are blessed by natural resources.”
He said people before us invested in the state’s parks and “we are the beneficiaries … we owe it to our children’s children.”
Question 6, environmental management, would provide $4 million to water quality and bay restoration; $5 million to green space preservation; $4.5 million to farmland preservation; and $6.5 million for park and recreational development.
Scott Duhamel, representing the Rhode Island Building Trades, called the bonds a “twofer” that stand to create jobs while improving the environment.
“We embrace green jobs,” he said of the 10,000 union members.
Confreda said the three farms his family operates employ 200. Bond funds would be used to protect working farms and green space.
Also a partner in support of the two bond referenda, Terry Sullivan, state director of the Nature Conservancy, said, “This is what Rhode Island is all about.”
He called the environment “our future.”