Riverkeeper chooses new leader at pivotal moment

People look out over the Hudson River and New York City. | AP Photo

ALBANY – Riverkeeper, a historic organization that started with a patrol boat to catch polluters on the Hudson River, has selected its first female leader.

Tracy Brown, regional director of water protection at Save the Sound, will become president and Hudson Riverkeeper of the nonprofit on November 1. She resides in Sleepy Hollow, one of the river towns in Westchester County. Brown takes over after the publication of a new strategic plan for the organization and the departure of Paul Gallay, who led it for more than a decade.

She brings a new style of leadership to the organization founded in 1966 as the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association.

“I’m more of the ‘figure it out as you go, come up with new strategies,” Brown said. “I think my leadership style will be a little more open to some of that youthful energy and that original thinking. what we really need to do to meet the challenges that are mounting. “

Why is this important: Riverkeeper is a leading advocacy group with a long history of fighting to protect the Hudson River and the surrounding watershed. He was instrumental in the deal to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant and also engaged in cleaning up the sewage flowing into the Hudson River and promoting additional dredging to remove the contaminants.

The new organization five-year plan, published in November 2020, highlights Riverkeeper’s need to raise more funds and their goal of building an endowment to provide more sustainable support. The plan also calls for prioritizing relationships with community groups, removing dams and restoring wildlife habitat, protecting drinking water and fighting climate change.

Riverkeeper’s public documents show a decline in contributions in recent years, from $ 5 million in 2014 to $ 3.7 million in 2019, the most recent year available. Most of the group’s budget is spent on staff salaries. The organization has 28 employees.

Background: Brown was hired by Save the Sound seven years ago to set up their New York office in Mamaroneck. She was tasked with developing a water quality and pollution program for the organization. Prior to that, she developed Riverkeeper’s water quality monitoring program from 2009 to 2014 and worked on communications for the organization from 2007 to 2009.

Realization of projects: Brown said one of his priorities is to continue to develop Riverkeeper’s capacity to implement field shoreline restoration and other green infrastructure. She noted that the organization has completed its first two dam removal projects in the past year.

“We really need to put in place projects on the ground to deal with these flash rain events in order to protect the living shores that are going to be stressed by rising water levels and warming water, and all of these. types of projects that will help put our communities on a better footing to protect the habitats they have, ”she said.

Brown said implementing these large-scale projects would require professional Riverkeeper staff to build more relationships with other community groups in the area to take advantage of the growing public interest and support for fight against climate impacts.

Brown is also eager to do more wetland protection and restoration projects. She is passionate about increasing public and legal access to the beaches of the Hudson River, she said.

She moved to Brooklyn’s Sleepy Hollow specifically because of a beach club there, where a friend took her while she looked for a home.

“It’s one of the things that you know really tied me to the river and tied my family to the river is being able to have this intimate relationship to be there and you know I do. really wishes everyone who wants it, ”she said. noted.

Inflection point: Brown worked with Gallay when she was at Riverkeeper before going to Save the Sound and praised her leadership and work within the organization. But she acknowledged that there is an “inflection point” occurring as more and more young people become intensely involved in work on climate and environmental issues.

“I’m more of this self-taught person who was born out of a passion for the environment and a passion for the river that kind of threw itself into it – saying I want to work to protect clean water and protect life.” in the rivers and let people have access to the river, ”she said.

And after: Brown officially begins at Riverkeeper on November 1. Save the Sound plans to search for a new regional manager, she said.

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