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Awards from Rivers Alliance
Environmental Champion 2018
Eric Hammerling (on left in photo) is our Environmental Champion for 2018, in recognition of his inspiring leadership as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association in protecting state parks, wildlife management areas, and other state open space from annual takings by the General Assembly in conveyance acts for environmentally harmful uses. He guided the successful advocacy campaign for passage, in the 2018 election, of a constitutional amendment establishing strong, transparent, and reasonable protections for the public’s state lands.
This was the first Environmental Champion Award presented by the new President of our Board, Dwight Merriam (on the right in the photo).
Environmental Champions 2017
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut presented its two prestigious environmental-champion awards on December 13, 2017, at their annual meeting in Hartford. The honorees were Paul Zagorsky, Esq., of Plainville and New Britain, and Virginia de Lima of West Hartford.
Attorney Zagorsky has been a leader in the campaign to save 100 acres of protected reservoir lands from destruction by rock mining. The property, owned by the City of New Britain, protects a key drinking-water source and, under current law, could not be disturbed. However, New Britain has sought through legislation to lease the land to the Tilcon mining company for the excavation of rock, which involves the removal of all topsoil and vegetation, as well as the trap rock.
Mr. Zagorsky has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours, working with the New Britain-based Protect Our Watersheds CT, to guard these valuable lands (officially termed Class I and II lands) from destruction. His advocacy is important to the protection of similar Class I and II lands across the state. Utilities are supposed to conserve these lands to ensure an ample supply of clean drinking water, but the lands are increasingly under development pressure for environmentally harmful uses. Rock mining is the worst use proposed thus far. “The environmental costs are incredible,” Mr. Zagorsky states. That small parcel of Class I and II land not only contains many vernal pools, but the watershed produces a very high volume of pure water. This would all be lost.”
State Sen. Terry Gerratana joined the gathering to present attorney Zagorsky with an additional honor, a citation from the General Assembly.
Ms. de Lima was recognized for her work with the U.S. Geological Survey, where she headed the Connecticut office, giving particular attention to monitoring streamflows and groundwater levels, and working with policy leaders to protect both water quality and quantity. In retirement, she has continued to work, as a volunteer, for the protection of all state waters. She has been a leader in the development of the state’s first comprehensive water plan, which the state Water Planning Council will deliver to to the General Assembly in February 2018. Ms. de Lima offers a “Water 101” presentation, which has helped to educate the public and state officials.
“We are so grateful for the generosity of such expert volunteers as Paul and Virginia,” said Margaret Miner, Executive Director of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut. “Absent this level of advocacy, we are at risk of losing the high-quality water, which is our most valuable natural resource.”
2016 Environmental Champions
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut honors Rep. James Albis, Co-Chair of the Environment Committee, for his strong, expert, dedicated, and patient leadership on behalf of Connecticut’s great and valuable natural resources.
Left to right: John Weedon, North Central Conservation District; Sean Hayden, Northwest Conservation District; Roman Mrozinski, Southwest Conservation District; Jane Brawerman, CT River Coastal Conservation District; Judith Rondeau, Eastern Connecticut Conservation District; and Denise Savageau, Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut has named the state’s Conservation Districts as winners of its 2015 Environmental Hero Awards. An award was presented to each of the five Conservation Districts as well as the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts for its expert and generous assistance in helping our communities preserve healthy soils and waters. Denise Savageau of Greenwich, head of the Association of Conservation Districts, said that the award was particularly timely because 2015 is International Year of the Soil — and because state funding for the districts is at risk in state budget negotiations. That funding is an important requirement to enable the state to participate in a $10 million federal program for the protection of Long Island Sound and the rivers that flow into it. Conservation districts were founded nationwide in the 1940s in response to the catastrophe of the dust bowl drought in the 1930s.
The awards were present on December 2 at the Rivers Alliance annual meeting to:
Rivers Alliance Honors David Bingham as Environmental Hero of 2014
At its Annual Meeting December 8, 2014, Rivers Allliance of Connecticut honored David Bingham as Environmental Hero of 2014. The award was given in gratitude for his service as a director and officer of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut from 2004-2014, and as an ardent and generous conservation advocate throughout the state.
Rivers Alliance Names Environmental Champions of 2014
At its Annual Meeting December 8, 2014, Rivers Allliance of Connecticut honored Kevin Zak and Sondra Marie Harman, of the Naugatuck River Protection Group, as Environmental Champions of 2014. The award was given in recognition of their extraordinary work protecting and restoring the waters and wildlife of the Naugatuck River.
Ainsworth Honored for Distinguished Environmental Service
Rivers Alliance has honored attorney Keith Ainsworth with its Distinguished Service Award for his dedication to environmental causes, pro bono help as needed, and expert testimony and guidance on environmental and anti-environmental bills in the Connecticut General Assembly. He is currently Chair of the Connecticut Bar Association Environmental Law Section. He has served as counsel and advisor for Trout Unlimited, Madison Land Conservation Trust, Rivers Alliance, and many other nonprofit organizations.
The award was in recognition of her inspiring leadership in protecting the Housatonic River watershed, the regional Highlands, the wetlands and water courses in her hometown of Kent and throughout Connecticut. Ms. Werner brings to the vocation of environmental stewardship good science, good sense, good humor, dedication, diplomacy, and super energy.
Ms. Werner is best known as the executive director of the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA), a stewardship organization for the tri-state watershed of the river. She has held this position since 1995, invigorating the organization and substantially expanding its reach and scope to protect drinking waters, rivers and important watershed lands across 83 communities.
In her hometown of Kent, she is chairman of the Inland-Wetlands and Watercourses Commission. She is also a board director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, an advisory director of the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition, and a founding board director of Earthshare New England and Earthshare National. She is also a founding director and past-president of Rivers Alliance.
This is the first time in its twenty-year history that Rivers Alliance has so honored a board member. Board, staff, and friends enthusiastically supported this break with tradition. Ms. Werner has helped countless individuals, groups, and government officials find ways and means to protect the waters of the state and the region.
Ed Meyer and Sally Rieger 2012 Champions
At its annual meeting on December 13, 2012, Rivers Alliance named State Senator Ed Meyer and Sally Rieger, chair of the Lower Farmington River/Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic Study Committee, as environmental and river champions, respectively, of 2012.
At its Annual Meeting in December 2011, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut named conservation leader Barbara David as Environmental Champion 2011. The award was given in recognition of her extraordinary dedication to the conservation of Connecticut’s land, air, and water; her generous support of the environmental community; and her special love of gardens and music, the graces of the world.
Rivers Alliance Names DEEP's Betsey Wingfield As State Agency Environmental Hero 2011
At its Annual Meeting in December 2011, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut named Betsey Wingfield of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as State Agency Environmental Hero 2011. The award was given in gratitude for her expert, patient, and effective work to negotiate a regulation protecting streamflows in Connecticut.
Rivers Alliance Names CEQ’s Karl Wagener Environmental Champion 2010
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut has named Karl Wagener, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality, as Environmental Champion 2010. The award was given in gratitude for his expert, patient, and effective work to protect the state’s natural resources, educate people state officials and the general public on environmental issues, and assist residents who need help with environmental problems. He not only listens to citizens’ complaints; he acts on them, often finding solutions when others thought no solutions were possible.
Mr. Wagener has been executive director of the CEQ since 1985. In that capacity, he serves as a guide to CEQ members and his colleagues on environmental law. He and the CEQ advocate for protection of the state’s environment, often taking positions that are politically bold. He also oversees publication of the CEQ’s annual report on the state of Connecticut’s environment, which is an invaluable tool for tracking the state’s progress and regress. Among his many accomplishments at the CEQ was helping to create and coordinate the original Governor's Greenways Committee, which led to the establishment of the Connecticut Greenways Council.
In 1995, Mr. Wagener was selected for an Eisenhower Fellowship and spent several weeks in the Czech Republic and Slovakia exchanging information with environmental officials and advocates in those countries.
Before joining the CEQ, he was director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Environmental Center in Hartford and served as their lobbyist at the State Capitol.
A graduate of the Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Wagener resides with his wife Maria in the Hubbard Brook watershed near the Connecticut River.
Rivers Alliance Honors David Sutherland As Its 2009 Environmental Championn
Rivers Alliance has named David Sutherland, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy Connecticut Chapter, as environmental champion of the year. Mr. Sutherland not only has a strong record of accom-plishment as an environmental advocate, he is exceptionally helpful to his colleagues. He is perennially one of the first advocates to grasp the details of the state budget as it develops and as it concludes. Given that the 2009 legislative session was almost all about the budget, Mr. Sutherland was much in demand. In particular, he was able to explain the complexities of the budget proposed for the Department of Environmental Protection, thereby strengthening the testimony of his many colleagues who sought to minimize cuts to the agency. He also was a leader in saving the funding that is distributed under the Connecticut Community Investment Act for open space, farmland, affordable housing, and historic preservation.
In his nineteen years with The Nature Conservancy, Mr. Sutherland has worked with colleagues in the Land Conservation Coalition for Connecticut to lobby for over $350 million in state funds to preserve natural lands across the state. He has led the Face of Connecticut campaign, which provided a vision and map for preserving the state’s natural and historic heritage. He has also lobbied for tax incentives to encourage conservation and laws to ensure the permanence of conservation restrictions and ownership..
Mr. Sutherland served on the Governor's Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Change in 2004, and helped to pass many hope, a model for watersheds under the stream-flow regulation that the Department of Environmental Protection released shortly after the celebration. Gov. Rell stressed the significance of the Shepaug case for all state rivers. She said: In fact, the battle over the Shepaug River flow was one worth fighting. The issues raised and the resolution created will resonate beyond just our borders. The case pointed to the important need for us to properly manage the flow of our rivers and to do it with balance: balanc-ing our needs for drinking water and recreational use while protecting our natural resources, legislation implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in Connecticut and establishing a state task force on the impacts of climate change. He was appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve on the Con-necticut Invasive Plants Council.
Rivers Alliance Executive Director Margaret Miner expresses thanks to Mr. Sutherland and The Nature Conservancy for their collegial assistance on a number of policy issues. “David has always been exceptionally helpful and gracious. He never seems to mind explaining the basics.”
At the present time, Rivers Alliance and the Nature Conservancy are leading the effort to achieve passage of the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed streamflow regulation to provide protective standards for all Connecticut’s stream and rivers. This looks to be the most important and, unfortunately, contentious issue on the state’s water-policy agenda.
Mr. Sutherland lives in Glastonbury's Kongscut Mountain/Diamond Lake neighborhood and has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies from Antioch University.
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut has named Nancy Eve Cohen of WNPR and Connecticut Public Radio as Environmental Reporter of the Year 2008. Ms. Cohen is also Managing Editor of NPR's Northeast Environmental Hub, which focuses on the natural resources of the region. Ecological systems do not recognize state borders, and many environmental issues are common to some or all of the states in the region.
Rivers Alliance selected Ms. Cohen for its annual award because her work in this state has provided extraordinary benefits. A good reporter not only reaches the immediate audience, she enlightens the entire community as that audience interacts with colleagues, friends, and family.
The award will be presented at the Rivers Alliance Annual Meeting on December 18 in Hartford. Anyone interested in attending should contact the RA office: email@example.com or 860-361-9349.
Margaret Miner, Executive Director of Rivers Alliance, said, "One reason that Nancy's stories are so excellent is that behind each feature are many, many hours of travel, study, and interviews. With her background in politics and science, she understands all facets of an issue. Also, she's really fair and really smart."
Eric Hammerling, Rivers Alliance President and Executive Director of Connecticut Forest and Park Association, remarked, "Nancy has a special talent for finding interesting individual stories that also explain wider issues. And vice versa. She can take a concept like river continuity and bring it to life with specific illustrations. We are lucky to have her on Connecticut Public Radio."
Last summer, Ms. Cohen broadcast environmental stories from Alaska, which documented effects of global warming on the delicate arctic environment. In 2006, she won an Associated Press Award for her reporting on sewage overflows in people's basements in Hartford. Her recent feature on the pros and cons of dam removal in New England dealt deftly with a controversial subject.
Rivers Alliance was founded in 1992 in Collinsville, on the banks of the Farmington River, and is now in Litchfield, close to the Bantam River. It is the statewide, non-profit coalition of river organizations, individuals and businesses formed to protect and enhance Connecticut's waters by promoting sound water policies, uniting and strengthening the state's many river groups, and educating the public about the importance of water stewardship.
Ms. Cohen is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Her journalism work has taken her to Cuba (where she recorded an interview with Castro), Sarajevo (in wartime), Guatemala, and Moscow. She has been an editor on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Funding for NPR’s Northeast Environment Hub comes from United Technologies Corporation.
Previous winners of the Rivers Alliance award have been Rep. Tim O’Brien of New Britain for legislative leadership in protecting drinking water and attorney Roger Reynolds of Connecticut Fund for the Environment for legal work on statewide environmental issues.
Ms. Miner concluded, “We have a wealth of talent in Connecticut and outstanding environmental policies. With the help of people like our awardees, we will reach our environmental goals.”
Rivers Alliance Names Roger Reynolds Environmental Attorney 2007
TIM O’BRIEN Environmental Legislator of 2007
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut has named Rep. Tim O’Brien of New Britain as environmental legislator of 2007. The award was presented on December 19 at the organization’s annual meeting in Hartford.
Thanks to the courageous leadership of Rep. O’Brien, the legislature, in a September 2007 special session, repealed a newly passed law that had threatened the quality of the state’s drinking water supplies.
The threat arose during the 2007 regular session in an eleventh-hour amendment added to an innocuous bill (Senate bill 1341) that made certain improvements in the management of water utilities. The amendment overrode state laws protecting Class I and Class II land in drinkingwater watersheds. (These lands buffer drinking-water reservoirs and wells.) It was written to allow the New Britain water utility to lease more than 130 acres of Class I and II land that it owns in Plainville to the Tilcon company for rock mining.
The advantage to New Britain was that Tilcon reportedly was willing to pay in the range of $12 million to $15 million for a forty-year lease. The disadvantage to the residents of Connecticut was that this permission-to-mine would open the door to similar ventures in some 100,000 acres of drinking water lands that have been protected under state law for three decades. Connecticut has been, in fact, a national leader in requiring the conservation of watershed lands as a public health mandate to maintain the exceptionally high quality of the state’s drinking water. Rep. O’Brien, who represents the state’s 24th district, initially supported the mining project, as did the entire New Britain delegation. As he learned more of the facts and implications of the hurriedly passed amendment, he took the lead in calling for its repeal.
He and New Britain’s senator, Don DeFronzo, pledged to seek repeal and eventually persuaded the rest of the delegation to join the cause. Ultimately, they persuaded Democratic leadership to implement the repeal. Rep. O’Brien’s willingness to acknowledge an error and to fight to repair the damage has rescued the state’s commitment to preserving healthy drinking water.