$250M to protect the land; State to boost conservation level.


Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - The Patrick administration has announced plans to dramatically increase state spending for urban parks, watershed protection and conservation land acquisition. Plans call for spending $50 million annually for the next five years, compared to a $30 million average over the last four years.

The governor and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles yesterday laid out the higher allocations for open space protection, as part of a five-year capital spending plan.

When those capital funds are combined with $5 million to $10 million the federal government contributes to the state each year, $1.5 million in land stamps revenue from sporting licenses and $7 million in watershed protection spending from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, annual open space spending will reach $65 million each year, officials said.

"What we preserve is just as important as what we build," Gov. Deval L. Patrick said in a statement announcing the plans. He said he is committed to leaving a legacy "of nature, beauty and serenity, along with commerce and prosperity."

"Never before has the commonwealth devoted this level of funding over a sustained period of time to the critical goal of land preservation," Mr. Bowles said.

The spending plan, which will have to be approved and could be modified by the Legislature, would allocate new funds to buy key open space parcels, and funds for state assistance of local conservation land buys and an expansion of urban parks.

Officials said they expect an increase in MWRA watershed protection spending to $7 million annually, for land purchases in the Wachusett and Quabbin reservoir watersheds. MWRA has been limited to about $1.7 million annually over the last five years.

Environmental officials said proposed spending would amount to a 65 percent increase over the $30.3 million spending average in the previous four years, and a 24 percent increase over state land protection spending that averaged $40 million annually from 1993 to 2003.

In only one year, 2003, did the state spend more than the governor calls for in each of the next five years. In that year, the state spent $59.9 million.

The governor identified three top priorities for land spending.

- First, he would use the funding to develop larger urban parks in 10 to 15 cities, targeting neighborhoods with few existing parks; and new or expanded parks in all of the state's 51 cities over...

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