2022 Green Bond Invests in the Best of Rhode Island


Green bond funding helped revitalize the Woonasquatucket River. (Grace Kelly/ecoRI News)

On Nov. 8, Rhode Islanders will have many important choices to make in the voting booths. I ask you to consider voting yes on referendum Question No. 3, the green bond. If approved, the proceeds of this $50 million measure will deliver a cleaner, greener, and fairer Rhode Island.

For decades, green bond funding has helped protect Narragansett Bay and drinking water, strengthen the state against global warming, reclaim contaminated urban brownfield sites for productive reuse, conserve open space, and build recreation facilities and playgrounds benefiting all of the state’s 39 cities and towns. The 2022 green bond also will empower the Roger Williams Park Zoo — one of Rhode Island’s most important cultural institutions and tourist attractions — to build a carbon-neutral education center and event pavilion where zoo leaders and programs will inspire the next generation of conservation advocates to save the planet.

For the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC), previous green bond referenda funds have been a game changer.

Formed more than 20 years ago, the WRWC’s mission is to create positive environmental, social, and economic change by revitalizing the Woonasquatucket River, its Greenway, and its communities. The Woonasquatucket River has been a cherished part of the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett Indian Tribe for time immemorial and remains a gathering place, productive ecosystem, and water highway. This small but influential river runs from North Smithfield and Glocester through Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston, and Providence. It shares a similar industrial history with the Blackstone River and has suffered the same legacy of pollution.

From the 1960s to the ’90s, the Woonasquatucket was hard to find and lined with abandoned, contaminated industrial sites. Trash and debris filled its overgrown riverbanks. In the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, children climbed over massive piles of illegally dumped debris in search of places to play.

With the help of federal funding secured by U.S. Sens. John Chafee and Jack Reed, state funding financed in large part by green bonds, and major private investment, the cleanup of the Woonasquatucket River began. The Woonasquatucket River Greenway, a 7-mile urban trail linking parks and green spaces in five Providence neighborhoods and the town of Johnston, was the catalyst for river and community revitalization thanks to the vision of project founders Fred Lippitt and Jane Sherman.

Since the cleanup began in earnest in the late 1990s until today, the Greenway and the investment it has spurred have restored the river and the communities it touches to health. Where once stood a dangerous pile of rubble that was once the Riverside Mills complex in Olneyville, now stands gleaming Riverside Park. It has outdoor classroom space, picnic pavilions, community-built playgrounds, a community garden, pollinator gardens, and a boat launch encouraging urban dwellers, especially youth, to enjoy canoeing and kayaking — activities that they would likely not experience otherwise.

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council believes that as a culture and society, we can never be complacent about creating and defending safe, healthy spaces to enjoy nature. To find peace. And to breathe. This is why we are so passionate about the 2022 green bond. Its proceeds will power projects that make life better for all Rhode Islanders. Also, the bond will strengthen Rhode Island against global warming — reducing our risks, prioritizing equity, and improving public safety.

If clean water, climate justice, open space preservation, urban revitalization, and other fundamental issues matter to you, please vote Yes on 3.

Alicia J. Lehrer is the executive director of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council.


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