PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management is now accepting applications from municipalities, land trusts, and non-profit land conservation organizations for Rhode Island Local Open Space Matching Grants. A total of up to $5 million is available during this round of the grant program. "Through these grants, we will continue to help preserve and protect precious open space and farmland, as well as support one of our state's economic drivers – tourism," Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. "Rhode Island is fortunate to enjoy unparalleled natural beauty. By having funds available for our cities and towns, land trusts and conservation organizations, we can continue to safeguard these assets, which strengthen our economy, future and environment."
DEM Director Janet Coit announced the grant round at the Land and Water Conservation Summit held Saturday at the URI Coastal Institute. Director Coit praised the more than 300 board members, volunteers and staff from land trusts, watershed councils, and conservation commissions who attended the event for their dedication to land and watershed conservation, saying that their combined efforts are what make Rhode Island great – and provide hope and a legacy.
"It's the power of local communities working with DEM to preserve the special places that mean so much — places where folks can go to get outdoors, unwind, and relax," Director Coit said. "These bonds are funds that drive progress and allow municipalities and conservation groups to keep a pipeline of projects moving forward – projects that ensure we have productive farmland, healthy forests, and places to play and enjoy nature." The grants will provide up to 50 percent of funding, up to a maximum of $400,000, to preserve open space lands that possess significant natural, ecological, agricultural or scenic values, by direct purchase or conservation easements. Special consideration will be given to projects that provide linkages between or expansion of existing preserved lands. In addition to the grants, DEM has funds available in its no-interest loan program to assist in the funding of open space projects. Funding for this grant round comes from the 2008 and 2012 Open Space Bond Authorizations, overwhelmingly approved by Rhode Island voters.
DEM will also provide 50 percent of overhead funds within set parameters to successful projects for appraisal, title, and survey services, provided the services are competitively bid with appropriate documentation. Funding for overhead costs would be in addition to grant awards, and would provide another source of financial assistance for land trusts and municipalities to acquire or protect valuable open space. Over the years these grant programs have not only resulted in the protection of hundreds of worthwhile projects – places used by residents and tourists alike for outdoor recreation – but have also contributed to the economic health of the state. These natural assets play a big role in the state's tourist economy by providing opportunities for the public to camp, fish, hunt, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors, and at the same time bring revenue to the local economy. This successful grant program has provided funding for the preservation of over 10,000 acres of land across the state since its inception in 1985. DEM has worked with partners to complete 165 easement transactions with land trusts and local communities to date, furthering the mission of preserving Rhode Island's precious resources and increasing the public's access and enjoyment of our natural lands.
Recent projects completed from the state's 2011 funding round include the protection of a 175-acre parcel in Coventry along the Coventry Greenway; assisting the Town of North Smithfield in acquiring a 40-acre parcel adjacent to Booth Pond; and preserving the development rights on the Kee Farm on the Kickemuit River in Warren. "As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Green Acres Act this May, we can see visual reminders across Rhode Island of how partnerships have been necessary and successful to conservation," Director Coit noted. Noting that the grant funds would help protect and preserve Rhode Island's open spaces and natural heritage, Director Coit emphasized the importance of Governor Chafee's proposed $75 million Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities bond for the 2014 ballot. "Rhode Island has a proud history of supporting investment in our extraordinary natural assets. Clean Water and Open Space bonds are widely supported in Rhode Island – in our urban centers, our small town main streets, suburban neighborhoods, and rural areas – because they keep our local character in-tact, and ensure continued economic investment and activity throughout the state," she said.
Grant applications will be accepted through June 6 at 4 p.m. They will be reviewed and ranked by the Natural Heritage Preservation Advisory Committee with final awards to be made by the State Natural Heritage Preservation Commission. The Commission expects to announce the grant awards in September 2014.
Grant applications, specific rules governing the grant program, and additional information is available from Lisa Primiano, deputy chief of DEM's Division of Planning and Development, at 222-2776 ext. 4307, or via email at email@example.com. Information and downloadable applications are also available on DEM's website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on "Topics", then "Grants", then "Open Space Grants".