Breaking Into the Woods: Trails for summer exploration

For Motif’s new environmental podcast, Earth, Wind and Water: We Will Be Ancestors, Sam Zimmer sat down with Mel Thibeault, founder of RI Queer Hikes to talk about hiking around the Ocean State. Here’s an excerpt with advice for the beginning or casual hiker. You can follow Thibeault at @ri.queer.hikes and catch the podcast at motifri.com.

Sam Zimmer (Motif): So say you’ve never been hiking before. What would you bring aside from a map or some information on your phone?

Mel Thibeau (Queer Hikes): Yes, map and phone. Definitely bring water. Bring a granola bar: You might get snacky. I get snacky. I have never used it, but it makes me comfortable if I go hiking alone to have a whistle. I have a little first aid kit, which I have needed when I took a tumble one time and scraped up my knee. Bring sunscreen. And in season, protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes because they are terrible. The last hike we went on, I found four ticks on myself, and I gotta get that out. 

SZ: Tick check is part of the deal, right? They flick right off.

MT: They do.

SZ: Do you know the trick about, if you have a tick, what to do? You know that they breathe through their butts? If you get a tick, but it’s in there, to get it out, you just take some sunscreen or something and you cover its butt, which is exposed. That’s where it’s breathing. So it won’t be able to breathe and it’ll actually back out of your body. And then you can just pick it up, put it in a bag and get that tested to make sure that you don’t have Lyme disease, or whatever else.

MT: It’s important: All of the trails have “check for ticks” signs. Deep summer it definitely gets buggy.

SZ: Of all the places you’ve been in RI and the surrounding area, what would you say are three of your favorite hiking spots?

MT: Definitely. I know I mentioned [earlier in the podcast] Wolf Hill in Smithfield. That’s the first hike we went on, but that’s definitely a favorite. It’s a good woodsy hike. There’s a trail – I think it’s the green trail – it’s more elevated. So you’re getting more of an incline than just a flat nature hike. That’s also the trail I smashed my knee on, so just be safe out there. And there’s also a waterfall. It’s a small RI waterfall, but it’s a cute little feature. It’s on the path, but it’s sort of off to the side so it’s a fun little adventure. And there’s an overlook so you can see the PVD skyline from there. There’s a lot of variety and it’s definitely a fun hike.

One that’s a little bit more remote, but very pretty, is Long Pond in Hopkinton. So all of you PVD folks who want to take a drive, it’s not that far. You can climb some rocks if you want at one point – there’s a bit of a scramble. There’s a beautiful pond and it’s another fun, woodsy hike. 

And then getting out of RI but not that far, Dartmouth, MA has a lot of beautiful hikes. One of my favorites is called the Frank Knowles/Little River Reserve which has these boardwalks through this marshy area that I just keep going back to. It’s fun to see it in different seasons. It’s something different, with a little variety. I would say they’re all good for beginners. So get out there!

The podcast is typically 30-40 minutes of deep dive into a given topic with local experts, and can be found at motifri.com or on most major platforms. It’s sponsored by R1 Entertainment Center, Grey Sail Brewery and Trinity Beer Garden.

Make the Bay Your Bae: From beaching to boarding, get the most out of the water this year

It is gearing up to be another crazy summer in the Ocean State. The millionaires are fighting for free parking spots on Ocean Road, and $50,000 houses are selling for a couple mil. If you don’t own a place by the shore, you certainly won’t be able to get one now, unless you are very rich and live in NY or CT (maybe NJ as well). 

Be aware that the recent trend among out-of-state, beachfront homeowners is to erect signs saying Private Road and No Beach Access. There is no such thing as a private road near and around our beaches and coastline. If there is public access to a surf or fishing spot, you have the right to access that beach or coastline. 

But we can all afford to take the drive to our state and town beaches, if we pay the man, and can visit them all summer. The best deal is still a state beach pass, which is only $30 and usable at eight state beaches. Seniors only pay $15. There is also a new deal called the Flex Pass, which only charges you the daily rate of the beach you visit and allows you to drive through the express entrances. The only drawback is that it requires your credit card to be on file.

There are no more season passes available at state beaches. You must either buy them on the internet or at the state beach kiosk in the Scarborough Beach overflow lot (across from the main beach). Go to lazparking.com to buy passes otherwise.

The toughest beach in New England to lay your blanket down on is the Narragansett Town Beach. It is expensive, very limited in parking spots and crowded. Daily admission is $12, and parking is $10 on weekdays and $15 on weekends and holidays. The problem is that everyone wants to go there because it is where you want to take your selfies. Loaded with surfer wannabes, aspiring Olivia Culpos and an award-winning championship team of lifeguards, what more can you ask for? Call 401-782-0658 for more information or go to narragansettri.com

This is the summer for surf camps, as many of them across the region were filled by the beginning of May. There are camps at Second Beach, First Beach, Little Compton, Matunuck and Narragansett. The most popular camps are at the Narragansett Town Beach, which is probably one of the most ideal beginner surf locations in the world. The shallow sandbars and gentle surf make it very inviting to novice riders. For more information on Narragansett and Matunuck camps, email bicsurf@hotmail.com.  

Don’t forget that there are skimboard camps at the South Kingstown Town Beach, which is one of the best skimboarding beaches on the east coast due to the depth of the sand bars and slope of the beach. Call the South Kingstown recreation department at 401-789-9301. All information is available on the website: southkingstownri.com.

Summer in RI means that all the young hot talent will be ripping up the waves at the surfing competitions that take place at Second Beach and the Narragansett Town Beach, as well as the Westerly Town Beach. Sponsored by the largest surfing association in the world, the Eastern Surfing Association, groms (super young surfers) go after trophies, prizes and bragging rights. You can check out the comps and schedule on the ESA South New England Facebook page.

I, along with many others in the paddleboard industry, thought the craze would be long gone 10 years ago. We were very wrong. It is bigger than ever, and the best place in the state to paddle is in the Narrow River in Narragansett. 9 miles long and spilling into the Atlantic Ocean at the base of the exclusive Dunes Club on the Narragansett Town Beach, it offers ideal paddleboard conditions. If you want to try it out, drop by the Narrow River Kayak center, located at 94 Middlebridge Road, call them at 401-789-3334 or go directly to the website to reserve one at narrowriverkayaks.com.

We are all hoping for a long, hot summer with no more variants of the Coronavirus around. See you in the line-up.

Resurrection and Preservation: EcoRI News Roundup

Resurrection of Environmental Bills Held for Further Study in 2021

RI legislators returned to the General Assembly chambers in January, and environmental advocates are hoping to pass an ambitious agenda. The legislature is expected to consider several environmental and climate-related bills that fell by the wayside last session.

At the top of the list of legislative priorities is the reintroduction of the Renewable Energy Standards Act requiring energy providers to source 100 percent of electricity sold in RI from renewable energy by 2030. It passed the Senate last year with 30 votes, before stalling in a House committee.

State lawmakers are prepared to introduce at least three bills targeted at regulating per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, commonly known as “forever chemicals.” The carcinogens are found in plastics, packaging, waste and water supplies. Researchers have linked these fluorinated chemicals to thyroid disease, low birth weight, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In 2019 the RI Department of Health officials found 48 percent of RI’s drinking-water sites tested positive for PFAS, with 24 percent containing elevated levels above the recommended standard. 

One of the big victories for environmental advocates in 2021 was the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience (OSCAR) Fund, which provides grant funding to municipalities and state agencies for adapting public infrastructure for climate-change impacts, preserving public access to the shoreline, and providing a match to help local municipalities acquire federal money. The law, however, was passed without any funding mechanism. Advocates say they will attempt to get OSCAR funded this year.

While specifics are still being worked out, bottle deposit bills are expected to make a return to the legislature after a brief absence. In 2020, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-South Kingstown), introduced a bill to place a 10-cent redemption rate on returned bottles. The measure was projected to divert some 15,000 tons of plastic containers annually from the Central Landfill in Johnson. Trade and business groups claimed the rate, higher than RI’s neighboring states, would cut into beverage sales and increase costs for rent, labor, energy and food.

Warwick Has Dwindling Green Space and Wants to Save it

The Warwick Land Trust Committee is proposing a bold initiative to protect what little remains of the city’s green space: a $15 million bond referendum on this year’s ballot to conserve nearly a dozen properties totaling some 500 acres.

During the past seven decades, the city’s open space has shrunk significantly. In the 1950s, most of southern and western Warwick was farmland and forestland. Today, apart from Morris Farm and the few farms left in the Potowomut area, the farmland has disappeared and the forestland has been fragmented, with much of it clear-cut.

The majority of the city’s remaining open space can be found in the hillside neighborhood of Cowesett and in the Natick area.

“The large areas of open space left are at risk of becoming solar fields or being developed into housing,” Land Trust Committee member Nathan Cornell said. “This is what is left, and we need to protect it for future generations and for the health of the community.”

If successful, he believes it would be the biggest conservation initiative in the city’s history. The bond figure of $15 million was derived from property assessments.

Battery Storage Facility Loses Charge

The company behind RI’s first utility-scale battery storage facility, a key component for renewable energy sources, has officially pulled the plug on the project.

Developer Plus Power, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in energy storage, proposed building a battery facility to store electricity generated from renewable energy sources. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that it has officially scrapped the proposed site in the village of West Kingston but declined to say why.

Town Council President Abel Collins expressed disappointment over the project’s cancellation. “I am supportive of large-scale battery storage installations, in addition to smaller-scale commercial and residential storage,” he said. “I would have liked to see it come to fruition.”

Project developers were planning on placing a series of 40-foot shipping containers on 7.4 acres of property near the train station. The containers would hold the inverters, transformers and batteries expected to store between 3.5 and 4.5 megawatts each, to total 140 megawatts of power.

The death of the battery project is a setback for renewable energy in the state. Utility-scale battery storage is a necessary component for transitioning to renewable energy. Green energy sources are limited by intermittency: the times when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow.

For more detail on these stories and the latest environmental news, visit ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI’s free weekly e-newsletter at ecoRI.org/subscribe.

The Birds & The Oysters: EcoRI News Roundup

From Superfund Site to Solar Farm

Nestled between Pontiac Avenue and the Pawtuxet River in Cranston, the Beacon Solar Project hosts 9,000 ground-mounted solar panels that can power 509 households. Subscribers to the community solar project are expected to save about 10 percent on their electric bills.

The 3.5-megawatt project is a joint venture between East Providence-based ISM Solar and Nautilus Solar Energy LLC of New Jersey.

The project represents a win for homeowners and solar developers alike. Solar construction is controversial, as residents often complain installations are eyesores, and environmentalists note the destruction of open space and forestland to site them. But the Pontiac Avenue array sits on top of an old landfill, a former Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site that is otherwise largely undevelopable.

A 2020 analysis funded by RI’s Office of Energy Resources showed a severe underuse of solar siting on already-developed sites. The report counted 404,594 solar-possible sites, such as rooftops, parking lots, landfills, brownfields, gravel pits, and other commercial or industrial parcels.

Preliminary data from the analysis showed RI could increase the megawatts generated by solar to 3,390 — 13 times higher than the 250 megawatts solar panels power now. Estimates in the analysis indicated using solar across the sites would displace 7.65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equaling 70 percent of the state’s current greenhouse-gas emissions.

Matunuck Oyster Bar Denied

A four-year tug-of-war between commercial aquaculture and some South Kingstown residents is nearly over. Members of a Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) subcommittee have recommended the council deny an application from Perry Raso, owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar, to expand his Potter Pond oyster farm.

Raso originally applied in 2017 for 3 acres of additional oyster and bay scallop farming in the popular salt pond, claiming an increased demand for local shellfish. The application incited a flurry of complaints and action from neighbors.

The subcommittee’s Nov. 9 recommendation came down to the proposal’s impact on water-based activities. The subcommittee said the expansion would cut water-based activities by 23 percent, displacing them toward the center of the pond, an area where boats typically cluster, and increasing the risk of injury. Members also noted the proposed site would eliminate traditional shellfishing and fin fishing on the eastern edge of Segar Cove.

Raso owns nearly 10 acres south of Meadow Point, but, even with his request for additional acreage, only about 3 percent of the pond is used for aquaculture, which is below the maximum of 5 percent of a pond’s water surface area that CRMC allows for commercial aquaculture.

While the general sentiment across the state, including by many who use the same waters to play, is that aquaculture is good for the local economy and environment — oysters, like other bivalves, filter water and remove excess nutrients such as nitrogen; a small oyster farm can clean as much as 100 million gallons of water daily — resistance to oyster farming has become strong in recent years.

Shooting Birds for Likes and Follows

The increasing popularity of bird photography and the desire of photographers to showcase their images on social media is raising concerns that birds are being harassed and disturbed, leading to potentially harmful effects on their health.

Bird conservation organizations around the globe, from the National Audubon Society to Britain’s Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, are asking bird photographers to avoid getting too close and reminding the photographers of the codes of ethics that many wildlife photography organizations have established.

Local wildlife advocates have noted that it’s also an increasing problem in RI.

“It’s definitely a problem here, and it’s getting worse,” said one longtime birder who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “There are more photographers, and there are more forums that photographers can post their photos on. It’s an ego trip for them. They want to post their photos and get likes, and that leads them to harass the birds.”

Getting too close to wild birds can pose serious dangers to them. Birds see people as predators, and when people approach, the birds must stop feeding and instead exert extra energy they may not have to escape the area. They also may be forced to leave their nests unattended, making their eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation, thermal stress or trampling.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

Unholy Lotus, Asphalt Woes, and De-Signed Trees: ecoRI News Roundup

Zoning Board Kicks Asphalt Operation to the Curb

Providence’s Zoning Board of Review unanimously denied a variance request Oct. 13 from a pavement manufacturing company that sought to continue the use of a leased portside Allens Avenue site for the storage and processing of concrete, stone, aggregate, and asphalt.

The Narragansett Improvement Co. applied for a variance permit last August to continue the non-waterfront dependent use of the 338 Allens Ave. property, which has been ongoing for the past three years despite lying within a maritime industrial waterfront district. The variance permit was opposed by more than 50 community members.

“This application doesn’t meet any of the standards, as far as I’m concerned, for a use variance,” board member Marcus Mitchell said. “It doesn’t comply with the ordinances or the comprehensive plan.”

Board members pointed to the three years of unsanctioned use of the site, the lack of zoning approval previously sought by the Narragansett Improvement Co., and the impact of asphalt processing on the health of nearby neighborhoods.

According to Robert Azar, deputy director of Providence’s Department of Planning and Development, the city’s land-use plan and zoning codes prioritize the water-dependent nature of the port area to best capitalize on the deepwater channel. The Allens Avenue site, he said, was historically home to a dock extending into the Providence River, which suggests the site’s continued potential for waterfront use as zoned.

Outdoor Advertising Company “Erroneously” Removes Trees in Front of Its Billboard

A bank of trees on Providence city property in Washington Park alongside Interstate 95 was “erroneously” chopped down in September, according to city officials, triggering concerns about tree equity in an area lacking trees and the benefits they provide.

The highway buffer trees were removed from 1101 Eddy St., a 0.82-acre lot owned by the city and leased to Lamar Advertising Co., a Louisiana-based outdoor advertising company that operates billboards in the United States and Canada. The city has requested that Lamar Advertising, which subcontracted the bulldozing of the buffer, replant trees on the lot, which hosts a single billboard.

“The city of Providence had previously worked with the lessee of the lot to allow tree trimming for visibility purposes, but the tree removal that occurred went well beyond what was authorized,” said Faith Chadwick, deputy director of communications for the city.

Michael Murphy, general manager at Lamar Advertising’s Providence office, said the company was given verbal approval by the city forester to trim and remove invasive species on the property.

According to Murphy, a mix-up with the subcontractor hired to do the trimming resulted in the removal of nearly all vegetation on the embankment, which sits above I-95 and a spur of the Providence and Worcester Railroad.

“It was erroneous on our part,” he said. “It was a miscommunication.”

But for Linda Perri of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, the fiasco indicates bigger problems of tree equity in the city.

“You can’t just go chopping down trees in an environmentally precarious area,” she said, noting the lack of tree coverage in the community when compared to other areas of Providence, as well as the high rates of asthma and pollution in the neighborhoods bordering the Port of Providence.

Studies have shown urban trees can lead to better health outcomes and social cohesion, as well as reduce pollution, urban heat, and noise.

Cranston’s Unholy Battle with the Sacred Lotus

The serene tableau surrounding Cranston’s Meshanticut Pond belies an intense fight against the sacred lotus, which now covers much of the pond’s surface.

In the past seven years, after a Cranston resident planted it in memory of a relative, the lotus — an invasive species, endemic to Asia and relatively new to Rhode Island waterways — has overtaken the pond. 

According to Keith Gazaille, project manager with SOLitude Lake Management — a water quality and waterbody restoration company that works throughout the eastern United States — it’s not the only aquatic invasive crowding out native plants in the pond.

Gazaille has continued the fight against a trifecta of invasives plaguing Meshanticut Pond: variable watermilfoil, fanwort, and sacred lotus.

“The lotus and the other invasive plants have the ability to really outcompete a lot of the native plant species,” Gazaille said. “It really reduces the diversity of the habitat.”

There is legislation in the works to stop the sale of aquatic invasive species, but the reality on Meshanticut Pond and other Rhode Island waterbodies is invasives have already taken root. And the state can’t treat them all — it’s too expensive.

Cost varies based on the size, the weed type, the chemicals used, and the staff time needed. The 12-acre Meshanticut Pond alone cost $6,685 to treat — a price tag picked up by a federal grant program for habitat restoration.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

Green New Careers: The Sunrise Movement challenges people to imagine their role in a brighter future

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization set on stopping the climate crisis while creating millions of fair-paying and sustainable jobs in the process, recently launched a Green New Careers website. The site invites users to imagine not only a better future that tackles the climate crisis head on, but what role they would play in it.

Paris Moran, Digital Director of Sunrise Movement shared, “We launched Green New Careers to show another future is possible – one that’s not extractive and includes fulfilling, good paying jobs that will revitalize our communities and combat climate change. Sunrise is excited and proud to launch Green New Careers to meet young people where they are and bring them into the political process in ways that our lawmakers often fail to – by being accessible and engaging for the next generation. This is how we build public support for good jobs combating the climate crisis, this is how we build the movement for a Civilian Climate Corps, this is how we will kick-off the Decade of the Green New Deal.”

The site offers information as well as a quiz in which users are able to discover which Green New Career type is best suited to them, whether that be careworker, observer, naturalist, communicator, organizer, builder, grower or analyst. Each type has its own page in which users can learn more about the valuable work they could perform toward a more sustainable and equitable future should politicians take bold climate action. 

“This year, we emerged from an apocalyptic global pandemic only to face the brunt of the climate crisis in the form of deadly heat waves, droughts and destructive storms. The climate crisis is here and the good news is we have the chance to pass one piece of the solution –  a bold Civilian Climate Corps,” said Varshini Prakash, Executive Director of Sunrise Movement. “The climate priorities in the reconciliation package must match the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, and Green New Careers is just one way we’re bringing people into the fight, especially for young people growing up and feeling the despair that comes with seeing your world burn with no solution in sight. We’re hoping that through this we can bring hope and vision for a livable future as we push our politicians to deliver for us.”

All the power and technology to halt the climate crisis already exists. A future in which both the planet and its people flourish is entirely possible. Through its Green New Careers, Sunrise invites us to see that better future. The next step is getting our politicians to see it, too.

Are We Ready?: A roundup of environmental happenings from ecoRI News

An Unenforced Emissions Law Means Diesel Trucks Can Pollute at Will

Your personal vehicle has to undergo an emissions check every two years, but Rhode Island doesn’t inspect long-haul trucks and heavy-duty vehicles for emissions at all, in spite of a 21-year-old law mandating such checks.

In mid-July, 21 years ago, a law was passed to crack down on diesel emissions emanating from Rhode Island’s largest vehicles.

The amendment to the state’s General Law (§ 31-47.2) acknowledged that heavy-duty diesel vehicles contribute significantly to air pollution and diminished “the quality of life and health” of all Rhode Island residents.

“It is in the public interest to establish a program regulating exhaust emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses traveling within Rhode Island,” the law stated. It directed the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to tackle the issue and launch such a program by 2003.

As of this month, according to state officials, “the program has not yet commenced.”

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, heavy-duty diesel vehicles emit about 20% of all transportation emissions. These emissions include carbon dioxide and monoxide, nitrogen oxides and ultrafine particulate matter. All are associated with a host of environmental and public health impacts.

DMV spokesperson Paul Grimaldi said test methods are now expected to be defined by the end of this year with a program launch no later than 2023.

“Equipment has been ordered and software is currently under development by Opus Inspection,” said Grimaldi, chief of information and public relations with the Department of Revenue, which houses the DMV.

Mushrooms and Mosquitoes Won Summer

Rhode Island experienced the third-rainiest July on record, with most areas receiving more than twice the average monthly precipitation and some areas receiving much more. Local scientists said all that rain likely had an impact on wildlife and the environment, in both positive and negative ways.

In many neighborhoods, it was the mushrooms that were the most visible winners. Mushrooms of numerous species sprouted from lawns, gardens, forests, meadows and elsewhere in huge numbers. Mosquitoes also thrived in puddles and standing water.

Other wildlife didn’t fare nearly as well, however. Butterflies, moths and dragonflies were barely noticed in many areas for much of the month, though that doesn’t mean the insects were killed by the rain. Most were probably just in hiding. They are typically visible only during sunny days, and since July had few sunny days, most species did not make their presence known.

The abundant precipitation provided a significant boost to lawns and wild plants, but many cultivated plants, especially vegetables, struggled to survive. 

The biggest losers were beach-loving humans.

Providence Knowledge District Is Slow to Grasp Climate Reality

For more than a decade, political leaders have seen the overlapping Jewelry District and the I-195 Redevelopment District (aka the Knowledge District) as an area for economic renaissance and development.

The past three years have finally borne the fruits of these political efforts — with at least five multimillion-dollar developments built in these districts and two still under construction — thanks, in large part, to city and state tax incentives and subsidies.

Yet, as dollars are poured into developing the district, the ad hoc preparation for sea-level rise among the various buildings in the area begs the question: How prepared is this burgeoning economic and innovation district to deal with flooding?

Since 2015, the executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council has been pushing those building in the I-195 Redevelopment District to prepare for at least 3 feet of sea-level rise. But so far, not a regulation exists that requires property owners in the Jewelry District and I-195 Redevelopment District to do so. Instead, these decisions are left to architects and building-project managers. 

Peter Gill Case of Truth Box Inc. and Christine Malecki West of KITE Architects, both of whom have built or are building in the I-195 Redevelopment District, said their decisions to prepare for rising sea levels were not required in any building code, regulation or policy. 

And without these regulations, many of the buildings in the Jewelry District and the I-195 Redevelopment District are more vulnerable.

The Aloft Hotel, for example, which is under construction and sits within 600 feet of the Providence River, has a first floor at an elevation of just 6.5 feet, according to public records. The land on which the building sits will flood with just 5 feet of sea-level rise, according to the Coastal Resources Management Council’s STORMTOOLS. At high tide, 5 feet of sea-level rise overtakes the hotel’s first floor.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI Newsfree weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

Panel Discussion: APA-RI Act on climate

“I often think back, even to this day, what was the big fuss about this bill? It just made common sense, it was time to do it. Our constituents in Newport and Rhode Islanders all around the state want action on climate, that’s pretty much the bottom line,” shares Representative Lauren Carson. 

Last week, Rhode Island’s chapter of the American Planning Association hosted a panel on the recently passed Act on Climate Bill. This bill creates a plan to address the climate crisis through updating targets from former climate bill the Resilient Rhode Island Act to ones in line with the most recent science, including enforceability, so that the public may sue if the regulations are not followed — something the former bill did not have — and addressing the need for an equitable and just transition for frontline and environmental justice workers and communities requiring input from “people from populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and at risk of pollution, displacement, energy burden and cost.”

The panel discussion of the bill was moderated by President of the Environment Council of Rhode Island Priscilla De La Cruz and included guests Senator Dawn Euer and Representative Lauren Carson (both sponsors of the bill), Liza Burkin, a lead organizer of Providence Streets Coalition, Acting Director of Rhode Island Democrats Terry Gray, and Managing Director of Turning Point Energy Michelle Carpenter. Governor McKee was also invited, but declined to attend.

The hour and a half panel covered a wide range of subjects from the ways Act on Climate builds on the Resilient Rhode Island Bill of 2014 to keeping up hope in the face of the climate crisis, particularly in the wake of the recent IPCC report. 

Director Gray expressed the state’s commitment and dedication to the implementation of the Act on Climate Bill and shared a letter Governor McKee sent to the cabinet members as they began to create a budget for 2023. “We passed four pieces of legislation this session that will put our state on a sustainable and prosperous path and these should be carefully considered as agencies submit their submissions to ensure that we meet the standards set in these laws. In particular, the Act on Climate, which ensures that the state is prepared for climate change and creates affordable and sustainable pathways towards the net zero emissions, needs to be considered in your budget submissions.” 

However, Burkin shared about the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, “Unfortunately they don’t seem to be taking it so seriously as witnessed in their latest ten year funding plan, which doesn’t analyze the climate impacts of the roadway and highway expansion projects and doesn’t adequately fund the transit, biking, and walking projects that we know will give people more mobility choices. Same thing with the Kennedy Plaza project and its impacts on equity. We’re just not seeing our state elevate the conversations and connections between climate, mobility, and equity yet.”

The biggest topic that was returned to over and over was the need for more accessible and sustainable modes of transit in Rhode Island. Panelists emphasized the link between transportation and the climate and equity.

Burkin emphasized that moving toward electric vehicles is not enough to halt the climate crisis. She shared that only 2% of U.S. new light duty vehicles are electric, and with an 11 to 12 year stock turnover, as most people own their cars for 10-12 years and to stay below 1.5° emissions must be cut 50-60% globally, there is simply not enough time to go from 2% electric cars to meet the needed threshold. 

“Since buildings and heavy industry are even harder to decarbonize than transportation, there’s a very strong climate argument behind urbanism and complete streets. We absolutely have to start rebalancing our street design to prioritize transit, biking, and walking.” 

“I think the big problem is that a lot of our policy makers and a lot of our state employees don’t take transit. They’ve never been on the bus, they’ve never tried to get around using RIPTA. I would love to see some kind of transit week at the state house. You can’t make decisions about a service if you don’t know what it’s like to use it. In the meantime, all state employee parking is free, I believe. That’s been written about at length in the Boston Globe, about how the combination of free parking for large businesses and the lack of transit benefits for large employers and government contributes to this culture of car culture, of cars being the only option,” she later added.

Senator Euer emphasized that she took great pride in the accomplishment of passing the Act on Climate, but also recognized that there is still a lot of work left to do to ensure that the bill is enforced by the state of Rhode Island and that Rhode Island continues to see legislation that focuses on equity and combating the climate crisis. 

“This was not the beginning of the state talking about climate change and it’s not going to be the end.”

The Heat Is on in RI: A roundup of environmental happenings from ecoRI News

More Good Beach Days, In Spite of Rain

In the first decade of the 2000s, beach closures were trending in the wrong direction. In 2003, Rhode Island beaches were closed a staggering 503 times because high levels of bacteria, usually following a rainstorm, made them unsafe.

Three years later, in 2006, Rhode Island lost a combined 351 summer beach days. The most beach days lost to unsafe water quality since then was 2009’s 230. Last year, the Ocean State experienced 51 closure days. So far this year, five marine beaches — Goddard State Park Beach and Conimicut Point Beach in Warwick, Easton’s Beach on Newport, Third Beach in Middletown and Mackerel Cove Beach in Jamestown — have been closed to swimming for a total of 19 days during what so far has been a wet summer.

The closure of Rhode Island beaches is closely linked to precipitation — the more we get, the more stress on our coastal waters. 

Stormwater runoff from roads, parking lots, roofs and other impervious surfaces washes contamination, including bacteria and other pathogens, into the Ocean State’s salt waters. Wastewater overflows, made possible by heavy amounts of rain, also deliver contaminants, such as fecal coliforms, escherichia coli and enterococci, to beach waters.

Improvements to sewer systems, the addition of infrastructure that treats runoff before it reaches the bay or ocean, and the introduction of stormwater management projects at and around beaches have all played a big role in keeping beaches open and the waters cleaner.

R.I.’s Top Crop Is … Inedible

Rhode Island sod is integral to the state’s agricultural economy. RI-grown turf has been installed at Fenway Park, the White House and the 2004 Athens Olympics. Its 3,300 acres, mostly in South County, account for a substantial chunk of all sod grown in New England. The smallest state ranks 26th in the nation in sod production.

“Sod is the largest single commodity in the state. Its greatest asset, its greatest legacy, is that it has provided economic viability for farms that might have gone out of business,” said Michael Sullivan, former director of both the Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service.

However, much of the sod grown in Rhode Island is on some of the best agricultural soils in the state. And most of Rhode Island’s sod farms were growing potatoes in the 1950s.

This situation has some, such as Rick Enser, a retired ecologist who worked for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for nearly three decades, wondering if it would it make more sense for Rhode Island to grow food in the quality soil currently growing turf.

He told ecoRI News the people of Rhode Island “should be appalled that the best soils are not used to grow food, but lawn,” which, he said, has “a biodiversity value just north of an asphalt parking lot.”

But farmers, under pressure to hold onto their land and earn a living, have had to make an economic calculation.

“A good potato crop would bring $800 per acre, while sod yields $1,200 to $1,500 per acre,” he said. “Any businessperson will go where a better profit can be made, especially if they love the life of farming and are fighting to keep the land,” Sullivan said.

DEM Rejection Burns Proposed High-Heat Medical-Waste Facility in West Warwick

Environmental regulators denied a permit for a high-heat medical waste treatment facility following public outcry about potential health and environmental dangers, which led state lawmakers and the governor to take action effectively banning the process within Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a decision July 13 denying an application by MedRecycler Inc. for a facility in West Warwick. The state agency said the ruling was prompted by the passage of a law placing strict and expansive geographic restrictions on medical waste disposal using a high-heat method called pyrolysis.

DEM noted the application’s failure to file specific information, including contingency plans with the West Warwick and East Greenwich fire departments, biological testing protocols and details of a required buffer zone between the facility and adjacent properties.

Gov. Dan McKee signed the law July 9 enacting limits on high-heat medical waste processing facilities in Rhode Island, which DEM cited as influential in its decision to deny MedRecycler’s application.

MedRecycler CEO Nicholas Campanella, who is also chairman of New Jersey-based parent company Sun Pacific Holding Corp., issued a statement following the DEM ruling, saying, in part, “The company will consider all of its legal options, of which there are many.”

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

Improvements All Around: A roundup of environmental happenings from ecoRI News

Shellfishing in the Providence River? Sure!

Years of work and millions of dollars in investment are paying off for the Providence River, and with it, fishing and shellfishing opportunities have increased.

This spring, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) opened the lower third of the Providence River to quahogging on a conditional basis for the first time in more than 75 years. And experts say the river is clean enough to fish, too.

“This is a tremendous day for Rhode Island that many never thought possible,” DEM Director Janet Coit said in a statement. “The opening of these new shellfishing grounds is the result of water quality improvements from decades of intense efforts to clean up the Providence River and Narragansett Bay.”

The Biggest Project You’ll Never See

A June 18 groundbreaking ceremony hosted by the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) marked the opening of the final phase in the largest public works project ever undertaken in Rhode Island, and likely the project’s last public appearance for some time as the work to benefit the surface estuary heads underground.

The third stage of the combined sewer overflow (CSO) project, known as “RestoredWaters RI,” is expected to raise the water quality in Narragansett Bay and its watershed and subsequently improve health and environmental conditions.

NBC operates Rhode Island’s two largest wastewater treatment facilities, Fields Point in Providence and Bucklin Point in East Providence. The new CSO tunnel beginning in Pawtucket will run 2.2 miles and provide a 65-million-gallon capacity to contain water and wastewater resulting from foul weather overflows until the liquid can be processed.

The eventual completion of the phase-three tunnel will be followed by construction of a park to benefit residents of East Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket with bike paths, estuary overlooks and recreational and educational areas.

Providence’s $140M Facelift

The Imagine Downtown Providence project, headed by global design consultant Arup, brought forward a proposal to redesign Kennedy Plaza, Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk. From added lighting and bathrooms to new performance stages and water features, the proposal would reshape downtown from the ground up.

In development since last December, the project took into consideration thousands of survey responses and public comments to develop a full-scale reconfiguration of the space.

In one of the biggest changes, Washington Street would be closed off to traffic and incorporated into the expanded plaza, according to Alban Bassuet, associate principal with project lead Arup. This would create a larger space with more “opportunity for public engagement and to revitalize the area,” he said.

The Providence Rink would transition into a versatile multiuse area, with a paintable floor mural, skating obstacles, places to eat and drink and audio-visual installations ready for events of up to 2,000 people, according to Bassuet. A new rink, designed to imitate skating on a frozen river, would be built on top of the current Washington Street.

Throughout the changes, bus travel will remain the focal point of the Kennedy Plaza area, according to Bonnie Nickerson, director of Providence’s Department of Planning and Development. 

However, Nickerson said the design team will remain in direct contact with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and keep bus accessibility options scalable in light of another proposed breakup of the Kennedy Plaza central bus hub. The state’s Multi-Hub Bus System has faced public backlash because of its potential to lengthen transfer times and scatter bus access across downtown.

“One of the things that we tried to do with our plan … is to identify spaces that could be scalable up for the level of bus activity that ultimately ends up in the greater [Kennedy Plaza] area,” Nickerson said.

Backyard Gardeners Work to Create an Interstate Pollinator ‘Highway’

Rhode Island gardeners in Cranston and Barrington are joining a national effort to install native plants in their gardens. The idea behind the effort is to link their yards with native habitat on protected lands and create what organizers are calling “pollinator pathways” to boost populations of bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

In the Edgewood section of Cranston, Suzanne Borstein is leading the effort to get her neighbors and friends to plant native plants in what she calls the “tree lawn” — the area between the sidewalk and the road. Since last November, she has hosted a series of online meetings to discuss the initiative, and nearly three dozen Cranston households had agreed to participate by the beginning of May, with more signing on every week.

“The connectability of the garden spaces is what’s especially important,” Borstein said. “If you have a great yard but nobody else in the neighborhood does, then the pollinators won’t be attracted or sustained.”

Planting native plants and restoring native habitat is vital to preserving biodiversity, according to the National Audubon Society. The habitat created by native plant gardens helps to nurture and sustain insects, birds and other creatures. The Rhode Island Wild Plant Society has many resources for adding native plants to your garden.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.