Small Rhode Island Panel Plays Big Role in Selecting Recreational Bond Projects
May 28, 2022
PROVIDENCE — Have you ever wondered what happens once recreational bond funds are approved by voters at the ballot box? A little-known state committee plays a big role in deciding which projects receive funding.
In mid-May, state officials announced more than $4 million in matching grants for recreational projects across the state. The funds will go to 16 projects in 13 municipalities to renovate or build new recreational facilities. The money came from a Beach, Clean Water and Green Bond passed by voters last year.
Projects to be funded include $400,000 for improvements to the playground at Jenks Park in Central Falls; $400,000 for revitalizing Knightsville Park in Cranston; and $312,500 to the city of Woonsocket to acquire 1.37 acres adjacent to Silvestri Pond.
The funding varied from as much as $400,000 to as low as $72,000. Communities are required to match the funds to receive a grant.
“Investments in recreational facilities knit our communities together and are integral to both physical and mental health and well-being,” said Gov. Dan McKee in a press release.
The approved projects received the recommendation of a relatively obscure government committee, the Recreation Resources Review Committee (RRRC). Described as an advisory committee that answers to the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning, the panel has no public meetings or committee members listed on the Rhode Island secretary of state’s website.
A membership list given to ecoRI News by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) shows a committee made up of state planners, local recreation department employees, one town planner, and two general members of the public.
The committee scores projects according to the specific rubric laid out in DEM’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). The plan, last revised in 2019 and in effect until 2024, lays out the minimum recommendations RRRC can make. The committee must consider funding in two categories: acquisition of new land and construction of new outdoor recreation facilities or renovation of existing facilities. Proposals are recommended for funding in order of their final scores, within the limit of available funding in each category. The RRRC, by vote, recommends proposals to be funded and forwards them to the DEM director, who can then adjust them.
Applicants’ projects are rated on need, habitat preservation, applicant priority, equity, economic revitalization, and state planning consistency, among others.
The latest round of grant awardees shows West Warwick’s Crompton Playground and Stephen Clarke Recreation Area topping the scores with 76.63 points. The lowest-scored project approved for funding was Smithfield’s Deerfield Park Splash Pad, with an average score of 44.88.
The committee reviewed a total of 53 project applications.
The state is represented by two department planners: Megan DiPrete, the division chief for planning and development at DEM; and Paul Gonsalves, principal planner at the Division of Statewide Planning. The governor’s office has a spot on the committee, but the seat is currently vacant.
Representing the Rhode Island Recreation and Parks Association is Scott Sevegny, the recreation program aide for the city of Cranston.
The Recreation and Parks Association has an additional representative for a “distressed community.” The seat is filled by John Blais, parks and recreation director for the city of Pawtucket.
Representing the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns is Andrew Wade, a parks and recreation community services director in the town of East Greenwich.
Albert Ranaldi, town planner for Lincoln, has a seat on the committee representing the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association.
The two general members of the public are Pilar McCloud and Elliot Rivera.
McKee’s proposed state budget for fiscal 2023 included $38 million for a similar bond. If passed by the General Assembly this year, the bond question would go on the ballot for voters this November.
This advisory committee needs to post meetings on Secretary of State’s web site and otherwise follow the Open Meetings Act because it needs a quorum of some kind to operate. The Attorney General found in Langseth v. Economic Development Corporation Review Panel, February 17, 2010, that, because that Review Panel did not report that it did not have a quorum requirement, it was subject to the Open Meetings Act. In other words, in order for a panel to duck out of the Open Meetings Act requirements, it must be able to show that it would be able to operate with only one or two members showing up when there are four or more participants (etc).