Public Spending and Capital Improvement Programs

Another important way to protect sensitive natural features is to watch how, where and when the public spends money on public facilities. Where new public facilities are constructed—and where they are not—can have profound effects on natural resources. The extension of sewer and water lines into a sensitive environmental area, like a sand dune, or the construction of a new road along a large wetland complex will have significant long term impacts–many of which could be negative. At the same time, the construction of a sewer line around an inland lake being contaminated by leaking septic tanks can help restore water quality in the lake. Communities that work with nature avoid creating the conditions that promote intensive development in areas with a large area of sensitive natural features.

Large capital improvements should be planned to meet future needs and should be based on the master plan–just as zoning should be. When the master plan has a solid foundation on a natural features inventory, future land uses will be planned in locations to avoid negative impacts on sensitive natural features. Subsequently, future capital improvements will then be located to accommodate needed community growth in locations that do not negatively affect sensitive natural features. The best tool for planning for future public improvements is the capital improvement program or CIP. This is a schedule of proposed capital improvements for the next 5-6 years. It specifies where the facilities are proposed to be located, what their cost will be, the means of financing and when they will be constructed. Each year the CIP is updated. This process permits plenty of time to examine the CIP for its environmental friendliness and to ensure that public investments aid, rather than diminish, the quality of local natural resources.

Credit: Filling the Gaps