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RI ENVIRONMENT

What’s in Question 3, R.I.’s $50m Green Bond?

If voters approve this year’s Green Bond, Rhode Island will borrow $50 million for environmental initiatives and recreation projects. Here’s what you need to know.

If voters approve Question 3, the Green Bond would support environmental initiatives and recreation projects, including a new Roger Williams Park Zoo facility. In this 2020 file photo, Zookeeper Jennifer Vincent, 44, brushes off Sukari, 27, a giraffe at Providence zoo.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

PROVIDENCE — Every few years going back decades, Rhode Islanders have gone to the polls to vote on whether the state should borrow money to fund environmental initiatives.

We’ll do it again on Nov. 8 (and of course can already do so now with early voting). Here are a few things to know about Question 3 — the Green Bond, in short — on your ballot.

How much money are we talking about here?

If approved (and they generally are, by wide margins), Rhode Island would borrow $50 million for environmental initiatives and recreation projects, including a new Roger Williams Park Zoo facility. When you’re talking about borrowing, you have to look at the total amount of revenue to be raised (the $50 million figure) as well as the interest on the bonds — another $30 million. That brings the total cost to about $80 million. That’s based on a 20-year bond with a 5 percent interest rate.

The state Department of Environmental Management has relied on green bonds since shortly after it became a state agency in 1977. The 2021 green bond, delayed from November 2020 because of COVID, raised $74 million and passed 78 percent to 22 percent. The 2018 green bond for $47 million passed by the same amount. The 2016 green bond raised $35 million and passed 68 percent to 32 percent.

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What will this year’s fund — if it passes?

Here’s the rundown:

—$12 million for an event pavilion and education center at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence. It’ll include, the zoo says, modern-day classrooms and a large venue with capacity for lectures, assemblies and performances.

—$16 million to help cities and towns restore and improve coastal habitats, floodplains, and infrastructure that are at risk in this time of climate change. That money will be in the form of matching grants administered by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.

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—$5 million for a small-business energy loan program, also administered by the Infrastructure Bank, which will provide grants and low- or no-interest loans for clean energy projects.

—$3 million in matching grants for the restoration of Narragansett Bay and the state’s watersheds, which will mean, supporters say, clean water for drinking, shellfishing and recreation.

—$3 million for forest management and wildlife projects. It’ll include work at state management areas.

—$4 million in matching grants to clean up former industrial sites, called brownfields.

—$5 million to fund open space and $2 million for local recreation grants.

What are supporters saying about it?

The state’s big environmental organizations, both nonprofits and the DEM itself, are on board and have been pushing the Green Bond.

—“Funding supplied by voter-approved green bonds is a catalyst that gives DEM the capability to do much of what we do to manage, protect, and restore Rhode Island’s natural resources,” Terry Gray, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said in a written statement.

—“The need to invest in a clean, green Rhode Island is more critical than ever as the urgency to address the climate crisis increases with more extreme events from intense flooding to droughts,” Priscilla De La Cruz, senior director of government affairs for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

But why borrow instead of just spending?

Non-governmental advocates who are proponents of the Green Bond, including Save The Bay, say they enthusiastically support investing in the state’s environment, which includes ballot questions like these.

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And also: “In future years, we hope that Governors and the General Assembly will work toward reliable funding streams to cover the costs of protecting and improving Rhode Island’s environment,” said Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy at Save The Bay. “Given the resounding support of Green Bonds, we think that voters would support such an approach in the future.”

For example, Hamblett pointed to the Coastal & Estuary Habitat Restoration Program & Trust Fund, established in 2004, which receives $250,000 a year for salt marshes and fish runs in local rivers. Over the years, $3.9 million in state money has brought back $30 million in federal matching funds, Hamblett said.

“In the meantime, Green Bonds are an effective way for the state to address important environmental priorities,” Hamblett said.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.