Innovation Ecosystem

Investing in a greener, cleaner future for RI

Proponents of Question 3, a $47.3 million bond to invest in green economy and clean water projects, kicked off their campaign as the remnants of Hurricane Michael arrived

Photo by Richard Asinof

Jonathan Stone, left, executive director of Save The Bay, kicks off the Yes on 3 campaign on Friday, Oct. 12, including comments by Gov. Gina Raimondo, second from left, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, third from left, and Barnaby Evans, the creative director of WaterFire.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/15/18
Advocates of the $47.3 million bond to invest in the green economy and clean water infrastructure kicked off their campaign on Friday, Oct. 12, as the remnants of Hurricane Michael blew through the state.
Why do Rhode Island voters often seem smarter than many business interests and some legislators in supporting spending on environmental investments? Is there a way to better recognize Narragansett Bay as the 40th community in Rhode Island that benefits the quality of life of all Rhode Islanders? Will the apparent incoming R.I. Attorney General, Peter Neronha, make enforcement of environment regulations a top priority in his administration, so that persistent violators will hear the slam of the jail door behind them? When will the role of behind-the-meter solar installations in producing upward of 2,000 megawatts for the New England grid be recognized as the key driver in lowering peak demand?
In November of 2016, Rhode Island voters passed a $20 million bond to create a new Innovation Campus in the state, in partnership with URI. Any day now, an announcement of that investment might be made by CommerceRI, serving as potential icing on the cake for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s re-election bid.
How innovation fits within the broader vision of community investment and public health is still a conversation waiting to happen in Rhode Island. As one frequent reader of ConvergenceRI wrote recently, in response to a story on domestic violence: “Return on capital is what drives innovation, not improved health status. If there is not a pill or device one can purchase to prevent the effects of trauma, few will want to invest.”
A similar kind of false dichotomy exists when talking about the externalities that never get included in the economic equations about the environment – the costs of polluted water, filthy air and the diseases caused by toxic contaminants.
The price of preserving the status quo that benefits the wealthiest [and often the greediest] and keeps in place the health, social, economic and environmental inequities comes at a very high cost.
The investments proposed under Question 3, although not everything that is needed, still have great value for Rhode Island, just as the proposed Innovation Campus does. But it needs to come with more inclusive conversation, convergence and health equity.

PROVIDENCE – Sometimes, poetry can capture our world much better than political arguments, debates and polling.

In his verse, “Elegy,” Tomas Transtomer wrote [as translated by Robert Bly]:

I open door number two.
Friends! You drank some darkness
And became visible.

With the remnants of Hurricane Michael bringing dark skies, intermittent downpours of rain and blustery winds to the Creative Capital on Friday morning, Oct. 12, a host of proponents of Vote Yes on 3, the $47.3 million bond initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot, gathered in an impromptu tent on a terrace overlooking Waterplace Park to kick off their campaign.

If approved by voters, the bond would make investments in a smorgasbord of “green economy and clean water projects,” including preserving open space, brownfields site remediation, dredging of the Providence River, dam safety, clean water and drinking water infrastructure, bikeways, preserving working farms, and improvement to existing parks.

The hope is that Rhode Island voters, as they have in past years, will choose to support the investments by a wide majority.

As the destructive path of Hurricane Michael made visible and difficult to ignore, Rhode Island, the nation and the world are confronting the dystopian reality of the havoc that man-made climate change threatens to wreak.

The existential question raised by Transtomer is what happens once the darkness is made visible: how will you respond?

[As Andy Borowitz wrote in his recent satire in The New Yorker, “Scientists: Earth endangered by new strain of fact-resistant humans,” crossing the big river of denial can be difficult. Borowitz quoted a researcher saying: “It’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water or oxygen.”]

The advocates of the $47.3 million “green economy and clean water” bond, in turn, made a compelling case for responding with investments in resilience and green infrastructure that they see as an important driver of future economic growth and improvements in public health outcomes.

Speakers endorsing the bond included: Jonathan Stone, executive director, Save The Bay, who served as emcee for the kickoff event; Gov. Gina Raimondo; Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza; Jeffrey Diehl of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank; Barnaby Evans, executive artistic director, WaterFire; Diana Campbell, executive director of the Mosaico Business and Community Development Corporation in Bristol; Diane Lynch, a member of the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission and R.I. Food Policy Council; and Bari Freeman, executive director, Bike Newport.

Supporters of Vote Yes on 3 include a coalition of more than 75 organizations, according to organizers.

As many of the speakers made clear, the new investments underwritten by the bond will leverage further dollars flowing into Rhode Island.

“The $7.9 million in funding provided by this bond to the Infrastructure Bank is required to unlock $40 million in federal funds and allows us to raise between $200 million and $300 million of private sector capital to invest in critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure,” said Jeffrey Diehl, of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.

For Mayor Elorza, the import of the endorsing Question 3 focused on the $5 million to be invested in improving existing community parks and recreational facilities and create new ones.

“Many of our kids rely on our public parks as their backyards, and in Providence, we have made it a goal to have a high quality, beautiful park within a 10-minute walk of every resident in the city of Providence,” Elorza said. The mayor, an avid bike rider who said he rides his bicycle to work almost every day [but not on Friday, because of the abysmal weather], also welcomed the $5 million in investments in bike paths.

In introducing WaterFire’s Barnaby Evans, Jonathan Stone talked about how uncovering the rivers that flowed through Providence, and with it, the installation of Waterfire, had proven to be a catalyst in the city’s renaissance.

Evans spoke in favor of the $7 million for dredging sections of the Providence, Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers. “We are delighted to stand with all of the other stakeholders here. This bond is the future of our state. It’s about quality of life, it’s about the environment, and it has so many benefits for every community across the state,” he said.

Stone praised Raimondo for her willingness to include the $47.3 bond proposal in her budget, which the R.I. General Assembly then approved.

Raimondo voiced her continued support for Question 3. “I urge all Rhode Islanders to vote ‘Yes on 3!’ this November.”

To the side of the news conference, uninvited protesters of the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville politely held up a banner in support of their efforts.

Somewhat surprisingly, no members of the R.I. General Assembly appeared to attend the kick-off event.

The ongoing controversies over sunken cranes and violations of permits in the Providence River were not discussed; neither was the recent spill of fuel from a tanker truck along Allens Avenue; nor was the sale of Deepwater Wind, the offshore wind developer, to a Danish competitor.

Also, there was no conversation heard about the controversial plan to sell off Providence Water as a way to boost the city’s finances.


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