Lack of Environmental Unity Leaves R.I. Open for Business
Volunteer land trusts and underfunded nonprofits can’t handle development pressure
December 11, 2016
Rhode Island’s splintered collection of land trusts and environmental organizations accomplish many things, but much of this important work is conducted in isolation. Intentionally or not, the state’s tangle of conservation projects are done in small groups. The collective voice of this movement is a whisper when Rhode Island needs a scream.
There’s no true unified front, statewide or even regionally, to adequately confront the constant development threats to the Ocean State’s collection of wetlands, salt marshes and open space.
The state is flush with understaffed and underfunded environmental nonprofits competing, often against each other, for the same pot of dwindling gold. It’s likely that with so many organizations going it alone, their collective message is diluted and their work, duplicated.
There’s more power in unity, especially when it comes to pushing back against politically supported corporate projects that shove aside public concern and end up diminishing the local landscape, stressing water resources and jeopardizing public health. It’s a pattern of abuse Rhode Island can’t seem to shake.
“Rhode Island continues to lose forest and soil, and our water resources are continuously threatened,” said Providence resident Greg Gerritt, an environmental advocate and founder of the think tank Prosperity for Rhode Island. “We’re in the Age of Stressed Environments.”
Natural resources need time to heal, but in a state where job creation and “cranes in the sky” is the directive from leadership, there’s little opportunity. Consequently, open space becomes more fragmented. Increasing amounts of sewage and wastewater, and the chemicals used in treatment, diminish the health of Narragansett Bay. The state’s growing expanse of impervious surfaces rush a tidal wave of pesticides, fertilizers, motor oil, antifreeze and debris into local waterbodies.
The state’s collection of environmental organizations and land trusts, made up mostly of volunteers and low-paid staff, can’t compete with the compromises the state continually makes to increase unimaginative development that further erodes important natural resources.
As things currently stand, protecting the quality and quantity of Rhode Island’s dwindling open space requires concerned residents sacrificing time from work and family to sit through council, planning board and zoning meetings. It requires filling out requests for public information, which are often ignored. It requires advocates and residents spending time at the Statehouse, attending hearings and testifying. It requires being arrested for chaining oneself to construction equipment. It means writing e-mails to local representatives. It requires making signs and organizing protests and sit-ins. It means getting signatures and filing petitions. It takes blood, sweat and tears. And, of course, it requires money.
Developing open space just takes money. Everyone involved is getting paid.
The governor and Statehouse power brokers speak at chamber of commerce events. They meet with developers, investors and trade unions. Meanwhile, environmentalists are left to beg and plead for what eventually become watered-down protections that are largely ignored, like the many taxpayer-funded studies and comprehensive plans to better manage Rhode Island’s land-use practices. The governor and the power brokers mostly decline invitations to meet with environmental groups. They rarely make time to speak with protestors and advocates.
“Volunteerism drives environmentalism and it would be nice if the state supported these organizations,” Art Ganz, president of the Salt Ponds Coalition, told ecoRI News during a recent interview at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown. “Instead, the state cuts funding and local endeavors are lost.”
For example, during the 2016 General Assembly session, lawmakers defunded a state-mandated conservation organization. The Rhode Island State Conservation Committee was established by state law in 1944 to help meet the needs of local land users for the conservation of land and water.
By cutting funding to Rhode Island’s three conservation districts, the state will save about $36,000 annually.
The Legislature also refused to support the governor’s budget request for two additional staffers to help address environmental enforcement capacity at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
“The challenge is how do we start managing land to get to the things we want and a healthier landscape,” Carol Lynn Trocki, a Rhode Island Land Trust Council board member, recently told ecoRI News over coffee at a popular Little Compton shop.
During the seven-plus years ecoRI News has been covering environmental issues in southern New England, we have heard from many people, both affiliated and unaffiliated with Rhode Island environmental nonprofits, who believe well-intentioned environmental organizations don’t — for reasons both complex and silly — typically work in concert.
This go-at-it-alone mentality essentially creates a piecemeal approach to conservation that feeds the state’s lack of environmental vision. It’s also no match for Rhode Island’s economic development policy, which some, such as Gerritt, call “misguided” and say “mistakes real-estate speculation as economic development.”
Rhode Island’s reliance on real-estate development to grow the economy produces parking lots, office parks, big-box stores, casinos, travel plazas, truck stops and fossil-fuel power plants. Woodlands, wetlands and watersheds are sacrificed for this “progress.” Costs related to the loss of ecosystems are ignored, or never even considered. Beach closures, loss of habitat, flooding and lack of diversity are the byproducts of this shortsighted approach.
The state’s collection of terrific scientific talent, passionate environmental organizations and dedicated volunteers — combined with some strong environmental regulations — helps maintain a semblance of balance. But, as Ganz noted, “so much damage has already been done.”
Planting trees in Rhode Island’s urban core is important work to combat the heat-island effect and improve public health, but those efforts need to be matched when it comes to better protecting the state’s existing woodlands, even if they are all second-growth forests. We can’t afford to keep clearing forestland.
“Better ecological protection is the future of our economy. We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to greening the economy,” Gerritt said. “We all like to go to the water, but there’s no water access without land conservation. What makes Rhode Island livable is activism.”
Imagine what the state’s collection of environmental organizations, land trusts and volunteers could accomplish if their work and efforts were better coordinated.
The diversity of Rhode Island’s open space provides both residents and visitors with cultural, natural and recreational opportunities. These areas also help control erosion, clean the air and purify the water.
About 22 percent of Rhode Island’s 1,212 square miles has been permanently protected from development. However, some 60 percent of the state is undeveloped and unprotected, according to an op-ed written last year by DEM staffer Scott Millar, who noted that land development was increasing at a pace that was nine times faster than Rhode Island’s population growth.
“Many of our most important farms, drinking water supplies and habitat are on lands that can be developed at any time, placing these critical resources at risk,” Millar wrote. “In the past, unplanned growth has led to the loss of our working farms and forests, impaired water quality and destroyed habitat.”
Among the areas not protected are the 13,000 acres Providence Water owns around the Scituate Reservoir, which provides drinking water to 60 percent of the state.
“Providence Water could sell that land to a developer or a private water supplier that would then have all this waterfront property on the reservoir,” Rupert Friday, executive director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, recently told ecoRI News. “There’s nothing keeping that land from being developed or sold to a developer.”
Friday also noted that future development looms over other parcels of land that many Rhode Islanders likely assume are already protected, such as the 1,800-acre Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rockville; the University of Rhode Island’s W. Alton Jones Campus and its 2,300 acres of forests, lakes and farmland in West Greenwich; and Brown University’s 372-acre Haffenreffer property in Bristol.
The assault on the state’s open space began in the 1940s. Since then, Rhode Island has lost 80 percent of its farmland, according to Friday.
Rhode Island’s first land trusts — the Sakonnet Preservation Association and the Block Island Conservancy — were created 44 years ago, three decades after much of the state’s farmland was lost to subdivisions and cul-de-sacs. Rhode Island’s current collection of local land trusts has been playing catch up ever since, protecting nearly 37,000 acres since 1972 — about a quarter of the land now conserved in Rhode Island.
But volunteer land trusts and conservation commissions can’t compete with politicians in leadership roles and special interests who have little problem draining the Ocean State’s natural resources for political and economic gain.
There are many forces at play — free enterprise, for one — that don’t favor open-space protection. The biggest, however, has to be the ability of developers, who already have the ear of politicians, to overwhelm volunteer organizations and boards with a cache of well-paid attorneys and experts.
John Foley, president of the Tiverton Land Trust, said finding people who are committed to land preservation and have time to volunteer is enough of a challenge. Just keeping up with the bookkeeping and day-to-day operations can be a grind.
“People have busy lives, kids, and most families have two adults working full-time jobs,” he said. “It can be difficult to carve out the necessary time.”
The Tiverton Land Trust was created in 1997 by four residents concerned that one of the few remaining large farms in town was about to be sold to a developer who planned to build 80 to 100 single-family homes on the 237-acre site. It took three years, plenty of sweat equity and $1.2 million to keep the property from being developed.
The property was renamed the Pardon Gray Preserve. It abuts Weetamoo Woods, another preserved property in Tiverton. These two properties shape the start of a coastal greenway distinguished by the unusual growth of an oak-holly forest. It’s one of few such forests remaining on the East Coast.
The Tiverton Land Trust has protected nearly 10 properties and some 475 acres since Matta Farm was saved. Identifying properties to protect, rallying community support, keeping tabs on conservation easements after preserved lands change hands and raising money takes time and effort. It’s not an easy task, especially when the forces of capitalism start pushing.
“We have more properties to preserve than we have dollars to spend,” Foley told ecoRI News during a visit last month to his downtown Providence law office. “We’re always trying to find money to protect land.”
Biologists, ecologists and foresters ecoRI News has spoken with over the years have expressed concerns about the condition of Rhode Island’s dwindling forestlands and the impact their declining health is having on wildlife, rivers and streams, and the state’s overall well-being.
Recent development projects, such as the corporate office park being built in the Johnston woods, are further chopping Rhode Island’s remaining forests into fragmented blocks. A proposed casino in Tiverton, a travel plaza and truck stop in Hopkinton, and a fossil-fuel power plant in Burrillville threaten to increase this fragmentation and further impede nature’s ability to recover, much less thrive.
The continued fragmentation of Rhode Island’s open space increases the potential for invasive species, such as Japanese barberry and multiflora rose, to displace established vegetation, decreases the value of habitat and lessens climate resiliency.
With so many elected officials, such as Gov. Gina Raimondo and Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, who seem to believe the best way for Rhode Island to move forward is to put cranes in the sky, it seems prudent that a strong environmental counterbalance is needed to help steer more development projects to the state’s substantial inventory of vacant office buildings, big-box stores, old mills and brownfields.
It took five months from the time the Citizens Bank president and governor held a joint press conference in March to announce plans to build the banking office park — on 123 acres in northern Johnston — to cut down the first tree. The office park will feature 2,408 parking spots, a main building, a cafe/amenity building with two stores, and two office buildings with room for future expansion. No environmental impact study was done.
Opposition to clear-cutting some 60 acres of woodland never materialized, and the concerns of a handful of Greenville Avenue residents who said they felt blindsided by the project’s swift progress were brushed aside by the mayor.
Swift-moving development projects, like the one in Johnston, bring up a reasonable question: Should Rhode Island’s collection of 48 land trusts advocate for open-space protection statewide or should they just focus on preserving local properties?
The Tiverton Land Trust, for one, doesn’t believe it’s in its best interest to take sides. It’s a view shared by many who volunteer on land trusts. One of the main reasons land trusts are reluctant to get involved in matters of advocacy is so not to offend active or potential donors. There’s also the matter of political pushback.
“We feel that it’s not our place to take positions on political issues of land development that we aren’t directly involved in,” said Foley, a Bristol native who has called Tiverton home for the past 27 years.
Those legitimate concerns effectively leave Rhode Island without a forest-protection equivalent of Save The Bay, as individual land conservation organizations with a collective lack of resources can put up little more than some spotty defense.
The Barrington Land Conservation Trust, for instance, hasn’t made an acquisition in a decade. The Johnston Land Trust didn’t make a peep regarding the Citizens Bank project. The Hopkinton Land Trust didn’t respond to an ecoRI News request for comment on this story.
“Land trusts have shifted from buying property to managing conservation easements and community assets,” Friday of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council said. “Planning and zoning alone won’t keep nice pieces of property from being developed. Land conservation still plays an important role.”
Fourteen years ago, in an attempt to facilitate better cross-communication between Rhode Island’s 48 land trusts, 33 conservation commissions and 12 watershed groups, Friday and Meg Kerr, now the senior director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, began hosting the Land and Water Conservation Summit.
The daylong conference — like the Compost Conference & Trade Show — attracts some 300 attendees annually, but it takes time for hands-on workshops and networking events to collectively sink in.
Land Trust Council board member Trocki regularly attends the Land and Water Summit and has led a workshop at the annual conference. The Little Compton resident said the state’s land trusts need support and guidance. She also said that community-specific movements like “Save the Farm” or “Stop the Walmart” are effective tools in preserving open space.
“Land conservation is so community driven,” Trocki said. “Land is personal. It’s about protecting the places that are five minutes from your house. The stuff you see walking the dog.”
The behind-the-scenes challenge, she said, is managing the conserved land.
“Communities are passionate about saving land, but the paperwork is much less sexy,” said Trocki, a self-employed conservation biologist who often works with private landowners. “We’ve protected all this land but now we need to manage it and understand it.”
Rhode Island’s cornucopia of state and local plans, strategies, guidelines and studies related to land use and environmental protections actually leaves the state without a go-to document. This paperwork mess, combined with builder-written bills passed annually by the General Assembly that chip away at buffer zones and other environmental protections, has titled the paradigm toward development that shuns considering places with existing infrastructure and paved surfaces.
Trocki said the state lacks a land-protection plan that is actually working toward something.
“What’s the vision? Where do we want to go?” she asked. “What do we want our communities to look like fifty to one hundred years from now? What will our agriculture look like? We don’t spend enough time figuring out where we want to go.”
There’s no unified plan, Trocki said, because “until you have experience with a piece of land you have no connection to it.”
Thus, Rhode Island’s 48 land trusts, 39 municipalities, numerous villages and countless neighborhoods hunker down while the state slowly gets picked apart.
The creation of pocket parks, grassroots conservation efforts, and the exhaustive efforts, and money, needed to protect places deemed “special” can’t keep up with development pressures.
The woods being felled to make way for office parks, casinos and rest areas are often dismissed as insignificant by those eager to fire up the bulldozers. The fact is these shrugged-off places provide important ecological and economical benefits, and doing a better job of keeping them intact would also help the Ocean State better deal with a changing climate.
The Statehouse, though, decided decades ago that business relationships are more important than environmental protections. DEM funding was slashed and its staff cut. It’s now an annual exercise to keep the agency’s budget level funded.
Friday said DEM employees who worked with land trusts, municipal officials and private landowners were laid off years ago as assistance resources evaporated, creating an expertise void that remains today.
Ganz, president of the Salt Ponds Coalition, retired from DEM’s Department of Natural Resources in 2005, after 35 years. He said the state agency is too fond of “cockamamie compromises” that help development. He noted development projects approved in coastal zones in South Kingstown and Narragansett, such as Green Hill, as prime examples.
“Two thirty-five Promenade Street is just cubicle upon cubicle,” Ganz said of DEM’s headquarters in downtown Providence. “When DEM began laying off staff in the 1980s it was the worker bees, not the top spots, whose jobs were eliminated. Skeleton crews are managing our state parks and beaches. The amount of field workers is grossly understaffed.”
Ultimately, a deep-rooted Statehouse mindset that protecting the environment somehow hinders the economy was developed. Rhode Island’s penchant for approving environmentally friendly bonds won’t curb the state’s fondness for unnecessarily kissing business ass.
Late last year, DEM send out a Tweet praising the environmental work of an East Providence business that has spilled some 4,700 gallons of ethanol during the past few years, and has been fined by the very same agency for air-pollution violations, for such things as failing to capture volatile organic compounds and ammonia emissions.
Earlier this year, the governor and the state’s congressional delegation loudly applauded Citizens Bank for cleaning up a 4-acre wooded landfill — an illegal operation Rhode Island allowed to operate for a decade and then ignored for decades more — by covering it with asphalt, concrete and steel, and clear-cutting 50 more acres.
In fact, Gov. Raimondo’s “laser focus on economic development,” as Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., boasted during the Citizens Bank groundbreaking ceremony in August, forces her administration to see the environment simply as a means to create jobs and grow the economy.
The Rhode Island Outdoor Recreation Council was created by the governor to increase “awareness about the use and enjoyment of recreational and environmental assets.”
But Rhode Island’s wonderful collection of natural resources are more than economic assets. Our beaches, bays, ponds, lakes, wetlands, watersheds, salt marshes and forests don’t simply exist to drive tourism. (DEM notes that this is a $2.4 billion industry that supports 24,000 jobs.) They do more than provide habitat for the fish we catch and the game we hunt. They also clean the air, protect our drinking water, nurture the food we grow, and protect us from storm surge and flooding.
These shared natural resources demand vigilant protection, but the Interim Report of the Rhode Island Outdoor Recreation Council released in July, for instance, seems to believe the Ocean State’s economic assets no longer need protection.
According to the report, “Rhode Island has effectively preserved its considerable natural resources and developed facilities and programming to enable public enjoyment.”
It also found that the “use of outdoor resources in Rhode Island by residents and visitors is less than optimal, and there is room to grow this sector of the state’s economy.”
Properly protecting the environment involves more than building hiking trails, cleaning seaweed from popular beaches, creating more habitat for hunting, and developing office parks that offer the community a paved space to enjoy less trees.
“We’re preserving nature for people — hiking trails, boat ramps. We’re not preserving biodiversity,” retired DEM employee Rick Enser, who worked for the state agency for 28 years, told ecoRI News this past summer. “Building trails and fancy boardwalks look great, but they’re not helping the environment.”
Thank you for Frank Carini for this urgently needed perspective. No one better understands your theme than the two or three dozen or so principle "doers" who have put their personal lives on hold and created from scratch—without any prior experience—the "coalition" assembled to fight the 1,000 megawatt power plant in the forest of northwest RI. Could there be a more stark testimonial to the fragmentation and weakness of state’s environmental community than the siting of a 1,000 megawatt power plant virtually on the property line of a state forest? Stephen Gostkowski could kick a field goal into the George Washington-Pulaski Wildlife Management Area from the clear-cut where the plant will be built. Together with the contiguous State-owned conservation land in the three states dividing this heavily forested region, nearly 25 square miles are at stake. And yet, to date, while some 24 RI conservation and preservation organizations have voice opposition, only a handful—and all of them small, junior partners—have really put their money where their mouths are and helped the ad hoc opposition movement with the real on-the-ground grunt-work. For example, right now the Woonsocket City Council has in their hands the power to kill the deal by denying the sale of city water which would be carried by a pipeline built from the city across North Smithfield and Burrillville to the plant location a mile from the Connecticut border. The opposition is scrambling to educate Woonsocket citizens and politicians on the facts of the matter, but so far without the aid of any of the movers and shakers who do have paid staff and credentialed experts and who can offer testimony that politicians have to take seriously. We understand the political game of go-along-to-get-along. We understand the concern noted by several in this article that local organizations can’t afford, politically, to engage in advocacy. But we also understand the map. We keep looking at that map of the huge forest, envisioning this power plant in the middle of it, and we cannot understand how on earth the environmental community of Rhode Island—every organization that stands for conservation—can accept this insult. If there would be any cause to rally around and set a precedent for future coordination of environmental advocacy, this would be it. We need everyone’s help now. In Woonsocket.
Good article Frank.
Some observations from a long term volunteer/advocate who made a living in another field:
first, I think you are too negative about the lack of cooperation amongst environmental groups. The environment Council of RI is I believe (compared to what I know about other states) relatively effective in sharing info, generating cooperation (as on bond issues) and networking;
that said, there are too many different enviro groups, each with a structure, newsletter, development effort…;
I think Bill is a bit unfair in criticizing RI enviro groups for net defending Burrillville, it is perhaps the one issue almost the entire community has rallied around. Compare that with the almost total lack of attention to the situation in Johnston, Tiverton Casino, Hopkinton Travel Plaza, or even paving over some of the State House lawn and prime URI farmland for even more parking; (though ecori tried to call attenton)
Finally, consider the almost total failure of the national movement to call attention to environmental issues in the national election, or to mobilize effectively against the unusally anti-environment candidacy of the Trump creature. So its not just a RI problem.
another reason development usually wins is that the enviro community mostly communicates just with each other or the agencies, but not so much with the public, so anti-environment letters, comments, posts on diverse media rarely get countered
More needs to be reported on the undermining of the RhodeMAP RI process and its Growth Center provisions. This was a comprehensive and inclusive plan offering incentives and guidance to local communities who wish to protect open space resources by concentrating growth. RI politicians who caved under pressure from libertarian and local rights advocates (who totally misrepresented the effort) need to be held accountable for not standing up for the environment by more vigorously backing Regional and Statewide smart (sustainable – green/equitable) growth efforts.
Great article, Frank.
I can certainly attest to Rupert Friday’s observation that “DEM employees who worked with land trusts, municipal officials and private landowners were laid off years ago as assistance resources evaporated, creating an expertise void (my underline) that remains today.“
Those DEM employees were responsible for researching and preparing conservation plans and state guide plan elements with the expectation that their work would be used to guide land use decision-making – for example, when siting a power plant. It should be apparent by now that approval of the Invenergy facility in Burrillville would have devastating consequences to the forested landscape and biodiversity in northwestern Rhode Island. The point is, those DEM employees already knew this before the Invenergy project was announced. If the DEM Director had taken ten minutes to consult with employees, current and former, regarding the environmental consequences of one of the largest projects this state has ever seen before it was announced…….
Apparently, however, the expertise void has also affected the Statewide Planning Program (SPP). The EFSB requested that agency to review the Clear River Energy Center (CREC) in regards to the State Guide Plan, including all of the Plan’s individual elements. However, the SPP made an internal decision to defer review of 8 of the elements (including the State Forest Plan, State Outdoor Recreation Plan, and State Greenspace and Greenway Plan) claiming that DEM had more expertise in those areas. Unfortunately, nobody told DEM and it does not appear that the EFSB has reminded the SPP about their responsibility to review the entire State Guide Plan for consistency. I would suspect there to be little support for the CREC to be found in “Ocean State Outdoors: Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan”, or the State “Forest Resources Management Plan.” If SPP does not feel it has the expertise to review these plans then the EFSB needs to find someone who can.
It would be great if the author suggested courses of action that busy citizens can take for specific protection projects and to lobby the governor. Is ecoRI undertaking any efforts to educate her? How can RI residents help beyond phone calls and letters?
WTF! Rhode Island is supposed to be this "blue state", yet it can’t lead in basic environmentalism! Every election cycle we see referenda for open space, and they pass. What happens to them? Disgraceful!
Diana, ecoRI News has asked the governor’s office many times to speak with the governor about her environmental priorities and plans. We have been rebuffed or ignored every time. The governor also reneged on debating her opponent in the gubernatorial election about environmental issues. She partook in such a debate during the Democratic primary — an event hosted by the the Environment Council of Rhode Island and ecoRI News — with the understanding that the winner of the primary would partake in such a debate with the Republican opponent in the general election. She blew that promise off. Besides attending meetings, writing letters and e-mails, protesting and volunteering, residents concerned about environmental issues, must vote. — Frank Carini, ecoRI News editor
This is a great article, but it’s missing one key point: the money. The simple fact is that none of the many environmental organizations discussed above has any money to buy General Assembly votes. The builders have lots of money and they spend it freely to get what they want. That’s how they have been able to stuff it to the planners and environmentalists every year with ever more ridiculous new laws like the so called "dry lands" bill. Last year the builders, legislators, and environmental groups all met and agreed to a "compromise" on new wetlands regulations. Before the ink was even dry, the builders went to the General Assembly and got themselves exempted. So far, they’ve also effectively prevented the new regulations from being implemented. Can anybody tell us when the new wetland regulations will actually take effect? We’ve been selling our long term future for short term profits. 30-40% of our retail buildings are already standing empty. Bricks and mortar retail is shrinking rapidly all over the nation. Meanwhile we’re busy cutting down our forests to build new retail stores and shopping centers! For whom? Our population has been shrinking or essentially flat lined for decades. Our urban neighborhoods decay for lack of investment while we’re vigorously cutting down forest to build crappy particle board and vinyl houses and condominiums we would prefer not to have in our neighborhoods. Who is that all for? It’s certainly not for the local residents. They’re showing up at hearing after hearing to state their objections to crappy development proposals, only to have their opinions ignored because the law favors the developers. Developers view our zoning and master planning as nothing more than temporary obstacles to be overcome with money and time. They profit by destroying our precious local open spaces, damaging our environment, ruining our neighborhoods, and burdening our local governments with overloaded infrastructure, overburdened educational systems, and empty retail plazas. Then they use their handsome profits to buy support from government officials and move on to despoil other neighborhoods (where they themselves would never deign to live.) The fact is that our underpaid planners and volunteer commissions are simply no match for well funded and well organized builders. Our Conservation Commissions have little money and no power. Our land trusts are almost all under fire for "taking too much land off the tax roles." The builders keep telling our government officials that we need more housing and more commercial development in order to have a strong economy and a better tax base. Accompanied by generous campaign contributions, it’s an appealing argument, even though it’s specious. If all this development is so good for the tax base, then why don’t the most developed communities in the state have the lowest taxes? In the end, it’s not about the land, the water or the environment, it’s about the money. We will continue to be outmatched until we implement strong conflict of interest laws that prohibit legislators from voting on special interest legislation sponsored by their big money donors at the expense of the public.