Massachusetts Invests $1.6 B in Energy, Environment

Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick has signed into law a bill authorizing $1.657 billion over five years for open space conservation, improvements at state parks and beaches, enhanced recreational facilities, and repair and reconstruction of dams, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), according to an August press release.

The Energy and Environment Bond Bill is a five-year blueprint for investing in environmental assets, doubling the amount authorized by the Commonwealth's last environmental bond, enacted in 2002, which is now nearly depleted. The bond bill is based on a five-year capital investment plan and related debt affordability analysis published by the Patrick Administration last year.

Patrick noted that, reflecting the merging of state environmental and energy agencies in 2007, the new bond also finances investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy in state buildings and agencies and new programs to address climate change.

"This has been our greenest session ever," said House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. "We have made incredible progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect our environment, and promote the use of alternative fuel sources. This law will add to those accomplishments through targeted investments in the Commonwealth's open spaces, parks, beaches, and recreation facilities in order to preserve our green infrastructure for generations to come."

"Passage of the 2008 Energy and Environment Bond ushers in a new era of investment and responsibility for the environmental assets that belong to all citizens of the Commonwealth," said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles. "For too long, these precious resources have been neglected. Backed by this bond bill and Governor Patrick's strong commitment to their mission, our environmental agencies will have the resources they need to make our parks, beaches, the jewels that we all know they can be."

At $636.3 million, the level of support provided for parks and other DCR assets is more than twice as much as authorized by the 2002 bond bill. Included are $205.7 million for DCR parks and reservations, beaches, harbor islands, swimming pools, campgrounds, and hiking and biking trails; and $325 million to repair and reconstruct DCR bridges – including critical spans across the Charles River in Boston. This authorization is in addition to the $900 million included in the accelerated bridge program; the combined capital program will rehabilitate all of DCR's structurally deficient bridges.

The bond act also authorizes borrowing for $30 million for flood control and $48.6 million for state-owned dams, including repair of and installation of a fish ladder at the Upper Mystic Lake Dam in Medford and Arlington; and $8 million to complete the rehabilitation of the state environmental laboratory, the country's oldest operational environmental lab.

The bond act supports Governor Patrick's ambitious program of at least $50 million annually in land acquisition and protection, the largest in Massachusetts history.. The $344 million bond authorization for open space protection includes $36 million for grants to municipalities for open space (LAND grants) and $53 million for grants to cities and towns for recreation land (PARC grants).

State-funded land conservation programs leverage significant additional investment in land protection by private land trusts and municipalities. Based on past experience, Governor Patrick's commitment of at least $50 million annually in state land acquisition and conservation restrictions is expected to yield an additional $75 million per year for land protection from other sources – a huge value at a time when the Commonwealth is losing open space to development at a rate of more than 40 acres per day, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

In terms of land acquisition and protection, the bond act also includes $25 million for EEA's new Commonwealth Urban Parks initiative, $73 million for acquisition of wildlife habitat by the Department of Fish and Game, $56.9 million to purchase land for DCR parks and reservations, $67.7 million to preserve agricultural lands through state purchase of development rights, and $21.3 million for Drinking Water Protection grants distributed to cities and towns by the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

Also authorized is $306 million in borrowing for natural resource protection and damage remediation. This authorization includes $44 million for DEP hazardous waste response and cleanup, $30 million for stormwater management and hazardous waste removal at state parks, $11.4 million for water quality monitoring and improvements, and $24.3 million to support the work of EEA's Office of Coastal Zone Management.

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