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Providence gets grant to reduce stormwater runoff

Oct 26, 2013

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PROVIDENCE — The announcement of a grant for just $75,000 would normally go largely unnoticed.

But on Friday, a news conference announcing a mere five-figure grant for the environment attracted many of the state’s most powerful public officials, including three-quarters of the congressional delegation, Governor Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

One reason was an opportunity to welcome the person making the announcement — the country’s new Environmental Protection Agency chief, Gina McCarthy, was making her first public appearance in Rhode Island since being appointed in July.

The other draw, said several in attendance, was the importance of the topic — creating natural solutions to reducing stormwater runoff into Rhode Island’s waterways.

“It’s a small amount of money,” acknowledged Curt Spalding, the New England administrator for EPA and former head of Save The Bay. But, he said, “it’s meant to catalyze this idea of doing something about stormwater. The idea is to get communities to see it as a community benefit, not a community cost.”

McCarthy announced that Providence was among four cities chosen to share $400,000 to devote to “green infrastructure” solutions to stormwater. The approach, she said, beautifies urban communities, creates jobs, curbs pollution and enhances resiliency to climate change.

“Green infrastructure is a new way of doing business,” she said, adding that managing contaminated runoff is “one of the most significant challenges” facing the nation.

The $75,000 will be used by the City of Providence to pay for public stormwater projects that can serve as models. No projects have been singled out, said Sheila Dormody, the city’s first sustainability coordinator.

Dormody said one likely target will be an area where stormwater issues are already being addressed — Mashapaug Pond and the system of ponds at Roger Williams Park. Other possibilities include city streets slated for improvements, including roundabout plans for Fountain Street, and on the East Side near the Seekonk River.

Green stormwater solutions typically rely on landscaping and greenery to capture runoff, instead of allowing rainwater tainted with road contaminants to inundate drainage pipes. The potential for flooding is reduced and polluted runoff is kept out of waterways and treatment plants, which are costly to operate and expand.

“It’s not a lot of money, but what’s big about it is creating examples,” Dormody said, “and creating momentum for more projects.”

McCarthy, in announcing the grant, was joined by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who chairs the Interior Appropriations Committee, which includes oversight of the EPA. Also present were U.S. Representatives David Cicilline and James Langevin.

Reporter Richard Salit can be reached by Email at [email protected]

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