The House of Representatives has approved a comprehensive bond bill containing nearly $3 billion in capital authorizations to support a variety of local and statewide environmental initiatives.
House Bill 4599, An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity, provides a five-year blueprint for environmental spending by the state. State Representative Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury supported the bill, which passed the House on a vote of 143-3 on June 13.
During floor debate, Representative Mirra was successful in securing passage of an amendment that will provide $450,000 for improvements to the Bradford Rail Trail in Haverhill and $100,000 for costs related to removing an impediment in the Rocks Village area of the Merrimack River. Because this funding must still be approved by Governor Charlie Baker and worked under the state’s bond cap, there is no timetable for when the money will be released.
“This is just the first step in a very long process, but I’m pleased we were able to get the ball rolling by securing preliminary funding approval for this important project that will benefit the residents of Haverhill,” said Representative Mirra. “This was truly a team effort for the entire Haverhill delegation including Representatives Andy Vargas, Diana Dizoglio, and Linda Dean Campbell. I’m honored and proud to work with them on anything that benefits the city of Haverhill.”
House Bill 4599 provides funding to help protect and maintain environmental resources across the state, including rivers and wetlands, as well as critical infrastructure such as dams, seawalls, jetties, and retaining walls. In addition to outlining new spending proposals, House Bill 4599 also reauthorizes a number of prior spending authorizations that were included in a 2014 environmental bond bill but never moved forward.
The bill includes $420 million in funding for the preservation of state-owned forests, parks, campgrounds and reservations around the Commonwealth. It also provides $55 million for the Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets Program, which offers technical assistance and construction funding to help municipalities reduce traffic congestion and make local roadways safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. An amendment adopted during floor debate requires at least one-third of this funding to be set aside for communities where the median household income is below the state average.
In an attempt to address climate change and promote coastal resiliency measures, House Bill 4599 requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to publish an integrated state climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan every five years. The two agencies must also establish frameworks for state agency and municipal vulnerability assessments.
The bill also creates a new Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program within EEA, along with a revolving fund to finance municipal loans. This program will help cities and towns protect local resources by allowing communities to purchase a conservation restriction on one parcel of land and then sell the development rights to the developer of a second parcel.
The environmental bond bill now moves to the Senate for further action.