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November/December 2000
The Hudson Riverkeeper

By John H. Vargo

There has been a change of leadership at RiverKeeper, the Hudson's foremost environmental advocacy organization. John Cronin, essentially the organization's first Riverkeeper, has moved on to teach at Pace University and to head up the Hudson River Fisherman's Trust. Alex Matthiessen, formerly a Special Assistant in U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's office, has replaced John as Riverkeeper and Executive Director.

The creation of the Riverkeeper organization dates back to 1966 when Robert H. Boyle, author of "The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History," and a small group of dedicated individuals formed the Hudson River Fisherman's Association (HRFA). At the time, the HRFA used the Public Trust doctrine and a host of other existing laws unfamiliar to most present-day environmentalists to protect the Hudson and its fisheries from pollution and massive fishkills. Once what we now know as the current body of federal and state environmental statutes became established and HRFA had had substantial success enforcing those laws, the need for a full-time advocate for the River became obvious. Thus, the notion of 'a man in his boat on the river' whose job was to protect the Hudson - i.e., a "Riverkeeper" - was born.

John Cronin, who previously had worked as a legislative assistant in Albany and was also a part-time Hudson River commercial fisherman, was appointed Riverkeeper in 1983. John's first major victory as Riverkeeper was the Exxon case. Exxon was using Hudson River water to flush and rinse its empty oil tanks and then refill these tanks with fresh river water to sell to the Caribbean island of Aruba which lacked its own source of drinking water. The Riverkeeper challenged the practice and won a multimillion dollar law suit which was used to establish the Hudson River Foundation. Since then, Riverkeeper has won over 100 legal battles against river polluters and watershed despoilers which has not only helped to clean up the River but has brought much needed attention to the importance of keeping the River clean.

In 1987, attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joined Riverkeeper as the organization's chief prosecuting attorney. Together with Karl Copeland, another Pace law professor, he co-directs the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic where ten students and the two professors bring lawsuits on behalf of Riverkeeper and other clients against Hudson River polluters, watershed developers, and federal and state agencies who fail to enforce environmental laws and regulations.

One example of River abuse that Boating On The Hudson Magazine helped bring attention to was the rambo-like behavior of the Metro North Police Force who harassed and issued tickets to fisherman who crossed the railroad tracks to fish the Hudson. The practice so outraged the fishing public that John Cronin, the Riverkeeper at the time, used the threat of bad press to compel MTA to agree to build a series of trestles over the railroad tracks which would enable fishermen and other members of the public to gain access to the River.

As the organization's new leader, Riverkeeper Alex Matthiessen wants to re-establish a presence on the River. "I hired John to be our full-time boat captain because it's important that the boat be on the River at all times. With all my other advocacy responsibilities, I won't have time to be out there every day," said Matthiessen. In addition, Matthiessen wants to engage local folks who live on the Hudson's shores
to assist in the Hudson's protection. "The River is cleaner than it's been in nearly a half-century," said Matthiessen. "I believe we need to involve the grassroots in the effort to make sure it stays that way." With the recent slurry of proposals to site new power plants and other major industrial facilities on the banks of the Hudson, the threats to the River are substantial.

John Lipscomb, who Riverkeeper Alex Matthiessen recruited to manage boat operations, has logged an enormous amount of sea miles (60,000) in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Pacific oceans. He brings a knowledge of boats and an understanding of the importance of public involvement that will keep John, the organization, and most important, the Hudson River, in good stead. His enthusiasm, especially when it comes to helping get people out on the water, is already paying dividends. "John is just the guy this organization needed," said Matthiessen. "He knows boats and loves the River. He'll do a great job getting people excited about the River's future."

The Hudson Riverkeeper is the founding member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international association of Keeper groups which work to protect their local water bodies. At present, there are over 60 Keeper groups throughout the United States with new groups quickly forming in Central America, Europe and beyond.

With new RiverKeeper Alex Matthiessen, Captain John Lipscomb, and other recent Riverkeeper hires, Riverkeeper is poised to continue its important work into the new millennium.

Riverkeeper's Board of Directors is comprised of: Richard Knabel, President; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Vice President; Sharon Davis, Treasurer; Ann Colley, Secretary; John P. Abplanalp; Elizabeth Barbanes; Brenda L. Boozer; Lorraine Bracco; Peggy Cullen; Ronald A. DeSilva; Bob Gabrielson; Arthur Glowka; Ann Hearst; Karen Kelly Klopp; and Henry Lewis Kingsley.

The Riverkeeper staff are: Alex Matthiessen, Executive Director & Hudson Riverkeeper; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Chief Prosecuting Attorney; Brian Lindquist, Director of Operations and Development; Attorneys Reed Super, David Gordon, Marc Yaggi, and Jeff Odefey; Bill Wegner, Watershed Analyst; Jessica Cox, Development Associate; John Lipscomb, Boat Captain; Alice Fessler, Office Manager; Craig Michaels, Executive Assistant; Evan Weissman, Americorps Volunteer; and Ellen Lane, Publications Editor.

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