St. Marys Riverkeeper chapter formed

Residents of two states recently chartered a St. Marys Riverkeeper chapter to add a stronger voice of advocacy to a critical local waterway.

Rick Frey, a former science teacher who lives in St. Marys, will lead the organization as riverkeeper and will serve under the direction of the board of directors, which includes stakeholders and landowners from both sides of the St. Marys River.

“We’re actually official, but barely,” he said. “We are in the developmental stages right now. We are getting a lot of our board of directors housekeeping out of the way.”

Frey said he used to invite the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper speak to his students every year when he was living near Atlanta, so he was already familiar with the organization. He wondered why the St. Marys River didn’t have one.

“That’s the first thing I said when I moved here,” Frey said. “There are probably enough threats to the river at this point that we really need one.”

The group already has drafted bylaws and is seeking nonprofit status so it can begin raising funds to support its advocacy efforts.

“St. Marys Riverkeeper’s aim is to provide strong advocacy that will result in an improved quality of life for all citizens whether they rely on it for drinking water or recreation, or whether they simply value the rivers’ continued well-being,” Frey said.

Board members include Chip Campbell, owner of Okefenokee Adventures; Dan Roach, Rayonier; Randy Rudderman, Atlanta attorney and Cumberland Harbour property owner; Jennifer Koerner, Up the Creek Xpeditions; Clyde Davis, Nassau County, Fla., attorney and river historian; Dan DeGuire, an aquaculturist affiliated with Whitehouse Seafood; Steve Shurter, CEO of White Oak Plantation; Carol Lanham, property owner and marketing specialist; Joe Lucent, St. Marys business and property owner; and Frank Quimby, St. Marys resident and founding member of Satilla Riverkeeper.

Frey said there are several others, from educators to large property owners, who also will assist the organization as an advisory committee. He said the organization needs the support of the area stakeholders who are concerned about the quality of the river and have a passion for protecting it. 

“That’s really what we are trying to do — the broader the better,” Frey said.

Eventually, the board intends to make the riverkeeper a paid position, but Frey said he is working “pro bono” for now.

Riverkeepers are sanctioned and licensed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the St. Marys Riverkeeper is one of more than 270 chapters in 34 countries worldwide, Frey said, and the Satilla, Altamaha and Savannah rivers to the north already have them.

According to its website, “Waterkeeper Alliance is the fastest-growing global movement for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.”

“Waterkeeper Alliance is thrilled to have Rick Frey to be the eyes, ears, and voice for this vital watershed,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance president, in a written release. “The theft of our public waters by polluters is not acceptable. Rick is the right leader to fight for clean water in the region.”

Although the St. Marys River Management Committee is a quasi-governmental board that been in operation for many years, Frey said its role is to provide factual information about the river to local governments.  Therefore, the committee could not offer an opinion on the proposed Palmetto Pipeline or any other proposed development that could negatively impact the river.

Frey is currently a member of the committee, but says he may relinquish that seat to focus on the riverkeeper and getting it off the ground.

The organization is working on a website, but in the meantime has launched a Facebook page to start raising awareness and gathering supporters. Frey said he has much work in the months to come, but is optimistic about the possibilities.

One thing that excites him is to be able to engage high school students and educators from both Camden and Charlton counties. Frey wants to involve them in river testing and help dispel some of the myths they might have heard, such as the river is dirty because of the tannins that tint the water brown.

He said the St. Marys Riverkeeper would not just be an organization that advocates, but one that educates.

News-Leader

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