Proponents of Ballot Questions 5 and 6 - bonds for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and several environmental management projects respectively - spoke up for them at Goddard Park in East Greenwich Tuesday.
Of particular interest to Woonsocket residents would be Question 5, which would take out a $20 million bond with $12 million for long-term loans to help cities and towns upgrade wastewater treatment plants and $8 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements.
According to Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper at Save the Bay, the bond would leverage another $100 million for the state, with $40 million of that added to the fund fueling loans for wastewater treatment upgrades.
In June, the Budget Commission awarded a $36.6 million contract for upgrading the city's wastewater treatment facility (required by the state by 2015) off Cumberland Hill Road to Colorado based design, build and management contractor CH2M Hill.
Supporters Tuesday argued that the $40 million ($20 million for each bond) is essential for the future health of local waters and green spaces.
"We want to be sure that people understand how important it is," said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay. Stone mentioned the 2003 fish kill in Greenwich Bay, noting that while bacteria in Narragansett Bay has been reduced, nitrogen is still a significant issue.
"This money is crucial for denitrification," he said. There are 19 sewage treatment plants that empty into Narragansett Bay. Several of them are up to the task of mitigating nitrogen, but a few aren't, Stone said, mentioning plants in Warwick and Newport in particular.
Woonsocket's wastewater treatment plant also empties into the bay via the Blackstone River, Kutcher said. Contaminants of concern include pathogens and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, Kutcher said. With a plant so far upstream from the bay like Woonsocket, it's the nitrogen that's the big worry.
"We don't want to have another fish kill like Greenwich Bay," Stone said.
Noting that some groups this year are arguing against any additional government spending, Stone said, "This is not a year to be complacent."
Jody King, past president of the Rhode Island Shellfishermen's Association, said his main goal was to be able to keep making a living on the water.
"I love my job," said King. "Shellfishing is what I've done for the past 20 years and I want to do it for another 20."
King had bags of clams and quahogs on display before the podium. "Quahogs are the only fish that Rhode Island can call its own," he said. "Let's protect Rhode Island's fish."
Sitting next to the bags of clams was a bucket. King plunged his hand into it and pulled out two small scallops that, he said, he'd gotten that morning at Rocky Beach, next to Rocky Point.
"Twenty years ago, I used to see condoms float by. I haven't seen that lately," said King. "I'm catching these every day."
King said he would be returning those scallops to the bay later that day, but he brought them to show what he hoped was a sign of better times to come.
Vinnie Confreda of Confreda Farms in Cranston spoke to the importance of good farmland – and the need to protect it, noting that Confreda Farms employs more than 200 people.
Scott Duhamel of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades spoke of the importance green jobs could represent if the ballot questions are passed.