“What’s special about Jane?”
Curt Spalding, New England regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), started with that question and then began naming the ways Tuesday at the EPA Environmental Merit Award ceremony, which was held in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall.
It’s no surprise that Spalding should know Warwick’s Jane Austin. He hired her when he was the director of Save the Bay. He cited some of her achievements, including her involvement in the creation of the Coalition for Water Security and the Coalition for Transportation Choices; leadership at the Environmental Council of Rhode Island; and her role with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. He also pointed out her involvement with the Rocky Point Foundation and the Warwick Council Sewer Review Commission.
But Spalding made it clear there is more than Jane’s commitment to the environment.
Spalding confessed environmental advocates can be over the top.
“They can get in your face and be pretty annoying,” he said.
His audience gave a knowing laugh.
“What’s really special about Jane,” he said, is her class, persistence and commitment.
Austin received a lifetime achievement award in an Earth Day ceremony that saw the presentation of 26 awards to individuals and organizations from across New England. Two Rhode Island organizations – the Rocky Point Foundation and the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association – received environmental merit awards.
In opening remarks, Spalding spoke of the resilience of New Englanders and how they have met challenges and yet grow and prosper.
He said that New Englanders have reduced their carbon footprint by 45 percent since 1990, while at the same time the economy has grown by 65 percent.
“We’re leading because of you,” he said of award recipients and their guests.
The Rocky Point Foundation was recognized for its work to save 82 acres of the former amusement park. The non-profit organization was founded in 2009 and successfully lobbied to get a bond issue on the 2010 ballot to provide $10 million to acquire the land from the U.S. Small Business Administration, court appointed administrator for the bankrupt park that closed in 1995.
In making the presentation, EPA’s Lynne Hamjian spoke fondly of her park memories, the clamcakes and the fresh sea breeze, and how that land will be saved for future generations.
“The Foundation worked diligently to garner public and political support to place a $10 million referendum on the ballot,” reads the awards ceremony program. It goes on to say a lot of work remains to be done to clean up the land and that the Foundation is working with Rhode Island School of Design Landscape Architecture Department to bring experts in the park design and development to the state. And, in fact, a second in a series of lectures of those lectures, featuring Matthew Urbanski, will be held tonight at 6:30 at the RISD Bayard Ewing Building at 230 South Main St. in Providence. Urbanski, principal of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, will talk about the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Demolition of what remains of the Shore Dinner Hall, Palladium and Rocky Beach cottages is scheduled for early this summer. Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit is hopeful of having the state land open to the public by this fall, although it will take longer before the state adopts a plan for its development.
The Rhode Island Environmental Education Association was named a “terrific resource” to students, schools and educators and recognized for promoting environmental education and public awareness of environmental issues in the state.
“Kristen Swanberg and her team have been working for years to provide a forum for members to discuss and make recommendations regarding the environmental education needs of the state and to create an environmentally literate citizenry through the Rhode Island Environmental Literacy Plan,” reads the awards program. Swanberg accepted the award.