Charlie Baker pushes $2.9 billion ARPA spending on trip highlighting infrastructure needs

A trip to a 130-year-old dam in Gloucester became the latest backdrop for Gov. Charlie Baker to push his $2.9 billion plan to immediately invest more than half of the state’s remaining coronavirus relief dollars.

“We say here in Massachusetts that climate change is real. We say we believe we cannot wait to do something about it. We say this over and over and over again,” said the Republican governor, speaking beside the Haskell Pond Dam on Wednesday.

Baker said the Legislature has for three years stymied his efforts to create a revolving fund to make continual investments in the state’s crumbing seawalls, culverts and more.

Now, the governor said the Legislature is slow-walking his latest push to invest $1.1 billion in environmental and marine infrastructure — part of his larger plan to immediately invest $2.9 billion of the $4.8 billion in remaining American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

“Just in the past two months, our state’s experienced two significant heat waves and a record amount of rainfall, creating significant challenges for our communities,” Baker said, highlighting the urgency.

The Baker administration on Wednesday announced more than $17.3 million in grants to address failing dams, coastal infrastructure and levees across the state, which Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said represents just “a fraction” of the need.

“The governor and lieutenant governor have a plan that would invest nearly a billion dollars of federal recovery funds into this game-changing, once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our environment, improve public health, and invest in our communities,” Theoharides said.

Lawmakers have signaled they are in no rush to dole out the funds, noting that hearings will take place throughout the fall.

Budget watchdogs last week during the first of six legislative hearings on spending supported the lawmakers’ take-it-slow approach.

During a hearing this week, Baker administration officials again touted the need for quick action, sounding the alarm over a looming and potentially devastating deadline coming as enhanced unemployment benefits afforded to those made jobless by the pandemic are set to expire on Labor Day weekend.

The grants awarded by the EEA Dam and Seawall Program this week will support permitting and construction projects in Acton, Ashfield, Braintree, Brockton, Chicopee, Dracut, Dudley, Essex, Gardner, Gloucester, Hull, Ipswich, Leominster, Marshfield, New Bedford, Northborough, Oxford, Peabody, Quincy, Salem, Saugus, Somerset, Stow, Springfield, Wareham, Weymouth, the Wildlands Trust (Kingston) and Worcester.

The 32 new grants bring total program funding to $95 million in grants and loans to address deficient dams, seawalls, and levees since the program began in 2013.

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