R.I. Legislators, Gov. Raimondo: We Need Narragansett Bay to Support Our Recovery
by Jonathan Stone, executive director
U.S. Sen. John Chafee once observed that “Narragansett Bay is good for the soul.”
In the earliest days of the pandemic, Rhode Islanders sought solace — defined as “comfort or consolation in a time of great distress or sadness” — at the beaches, parks and shorelines that make the Ocean State our home.
When Gov. Gina Raimondo closed state beaches and parks in response to gatherings along our shores, Rhode Islanders’ collective disappointment spoke volumes about our love for the Bay. Our collective enthusiasm for returning to some of these sites once again also reflects our deep connection to this natural resource.
As the state moves forward with a cautious reopening, the General Assembly and governor have re-started work on the state’s budget for fiscal year 2021. Governor Raimondo has signaled that, due to the COVID-19 deficit, “everything is on table,” including potential state employee layoffs. As our elected leaders chart a course for the next 12 months and beyond, we urge them to remember Narragansett Bay, and to remember how many residents depend on a clean and healthy Bay for their livelihood, for their quality of life, and yes, for solace. We need a healthy Narragansett Bay to support our recovery.
While addressing the public health crisis must be the top priority, we urge our elected officials to recognize that the environmental challenges that Rhode Island communities faced before the pandemic still remain.
We know that this year’s budget will be the most challenging in our lifetime; however, it also presents a great opportunity to address Narragansett Bay’s short- and long-term needs, to help rebuild our economy, and to leverage millions of dollars in federal support for our recovery.
The budget the governor submitted to the General Assembly in January includes key elements for preserving our environment and generating jobs for Rhode Island companies and workers. The Clean Water, Beaches and Green Economy Bond makes investments in what makes our state special: clean water, open space, public beaches and parks, and community resilience to climate change. For over four decades, Rhode Islanders have overwhelmingly voted in favor of investments in our environment, notably Narragansett Bay. We hope the General Assembly and the governor will, once again, give voters the opportunity to voice that support.
The governor’s proposed budget also includes much-needed funding for programs that protect our air, land, water and health. Presently, the two state agencies charged with protecting our environment — the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council — remain painfully understaffed, and both are in dire need of upgrades to their antiquated IT systems. Upgraded operating systems will streamline permitting and enforcement processes at both agencies — a request businesses and municipalities have been making for years. It is worth noting that the two agencies account for just 1.8 percent of the state budget, but provide services that are invaluable.
Also outlined in the governor’s budget was a program to help cities and towns take urgent measures to protect their natural assets from climate change impacts. The Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience Fund, or OSCAR, will be a $1.1-million-per-year fund, fueled by a 3-cent-per-barrel fee on petroleum imports. OSCAR will create a dedicated long-term source of grant funding, empowering cities and towns to leverage millions more in federal support for climate adaptation and resilience measures, keeping Rhode Island economically viable for years to come.
The trials of recent months have reminded us that Narragansett Bay is always there for us. Over the coming months and years, the beaches, restaurants, hotels, marinas and bait-and-tackle shops will once again teem with activity, serving us and our economy well.
We hope that, in this most challenging year for Rhode Island, and during the General Assembly’s deliberations on the budget, our elected officials remember the central role Narragansett Bay plays in the lives and livelihoods of all Rhode Islanders.