RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462
July 17, 2000
Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402
Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418
DEM'S ANNUAL REPORT SHOWS PROGRESS TOWARD MEETING ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS
Improvements Also Seen in Service and Accountability
PROVIDENCE - The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has published its 1999 annual report describing current environmental conditions in Rhode Island and the progress DEM and its partners have made toward meeting the Department's environmental goals.
Jan Reitsma, Director of DEM, said, "We made a promise last year to focus more clearly on priorities and on environmental results. One of our most important goals was to reenergize the Department's performance and become more accountable about that performance. This is our progress report."
The report notes the steps DEM has taken to improve service and accountability. They include hiring an ombudsman to investigate internal and external complaints about Department actions; readying a computer system to track permits for use later this year; and increasing enforcement actions in the RCRA program from two in 1998 to 20 in 1999, winning praise from the New England Office of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The report focuses on priorities and environmental results and mirrors DEM's workplan, which is organized around seven environmental goals: clean air, clean and plentiful water, livable communities, healthy ecosystems, viable natural resource-based industries, abundant open space and recreational opportunities, and sustainable watersheds. To reach its goals, DEM developed work plans for the 2000-2001 fiscal year that include performance measures.
Among the report's findings:
- Clean Air: Long term trends show that the state's air is cleaner, but regularly exceeds the eight-hour standard for ground level ozone. The recently adopted enhanced vehicle inspection and maintenance program and phase II reformulated gasoline will reduce ozone formation in hot weather by cutting emissions from on-road vehicles. DEM has installed a monitoring system to determine whether further efforts are needed to meet health-based standards for particles 2.5 microns or smaller.
- Clean and Plentiful Water: Rhode Island waters are cleaner, but some shellfish beds are closed due to bacterial pollution. Industries have greatly reduced toxic contamination through pretreatment programs, but contaminated sediments remain a hazard. Excess nutrients in some waters promote algae growth and oxygen depletion that can kill fish. DEM awarded $668,000 to abate sources of this pollution, studies to address these sources are underway within six watershed areas, and EPA has approved DEM's restoration plan for Stafford Pond.
- Livable Communities: The Department is working with communities on a wide range of livability issues such as reducing sprawl, brownfields redevelopment, and the urban forestry program. To combat the largest single environmental threat in Rhode Island, DEM has overseen removal of four million tires from the Davis tire pile in Smithfield since 1997.
- Healthy Ecosystems: Progress toward healthy ecosystems has been made through forestry programs, fisheries management, a collaboration with the University of Rhode Island on a freshwater habitat restoration project, and a project with URI and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to map and prioritize opportunities to restore salt marshes and eelgrass beds.
- Viable Natural Resource-Based Industries: Among projects to support natural resource-based industries, DEM helped farmers cope with last year's drought and prepare for future water shortages; gave assistance to farm and forest owners to develop new businesses; improved recreational fishing and hunting opportunities, and built new facilities at the ports in Newport and Galilee.
- Abundant Open Space and Recreational Opportunities: The Department helped protect more than 1,600 acres of open space; awarded 25 grants worth $2.43 million for open space acquisition; completed major renovations at Misquamicut State Beach; continued to add miles of bikeways, greenways and trailways; and won a national award for providing handicapped access to Department recreation facilities.
- Sustainable Watersheds: In pilot watershed protection projects DEM is working with a number of partners in South County to develop alternative land use ordinances, initiate a greenspace protection strategy, and assess and plan for providing water to meet all needs without degrading habitat. In the Woonasquatucket River watershed DEM and its partners have focused on safeguarding the public from dioxins in the river and river banks, developing the Riverside Mills Brownfields site into a park and designing the Woonasquatucket River Greenway.
The 42-page illustrated report is available by calling DEM's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy at 222-3434 or by visiting DEM's website at www.dem.state.ri.us/demrep99/annual.htm. It is also available at libraries throughout the state.