Freshwater Future’s Citizen Advocate Awards

Freshwater Future’s Citizen Advocate Awards

Citizen Award: Diane Hofner, CROP PLUS – Portland, New York (CROP-PLUS stands for Concerned Residents of Portland – People Like Us Portland)

It takes strength to stand up for the truth, especially when the alternative means changing a system that has been in place for years as well as higher dollar costs for a community.

When Diane Hofner and her husband retired to their summer home in Portland, NY, she started paying closer attention to the piles of dark ash that were used on the roads to increase traction during the winter. She discovered that the coal ash was available for free from the local coal plant and putting it on the road kept it out of the landfill. She also discovered that this had been going on for decades.

Diane made her first call to the Health Department and began a long, informative, and alarming journey that revealed many levels at which her community could be contaminated by disposal of both waste products from coal burning: bottom ash and fly ash.

Diane found out that the use of coal ash was allowed through the state of New York as a cheap alternative to more costly sand and salt. She also discovered that nearby wells had been contaminated as a result of a golf course built on millions of tons of fly ash.

Initially using her money for expensive tests on the ash, it was a lonely, uphill battle. Eventually, Diane was connected to Freshwater Future. “At first, a consultation grant in 2009 was awarded which helped me organize my thoughts,” explained Diane who had never before written a grant and had minimal computer skills. A second grant of $4,000 was used for testing the ash samples. “I did what people needed to see as proof. With the grant, we were able to hire a professional sampler this time.”

In 1980, Congress stopped regulating coal ash. Diane’s recent work is supporting ongoing efforts to reinstate regulation of coal ash and to define it as a hazardous waste.

Today, Diane’s local community has stopped using coal ash on their roads. We commend Diane for standing up to protect the lakes, rivers and drinking water in her community from pollution and award her the 2011 Citizen Advocate Award.

Group Award: Cool Learning Experience – Waukegan, IL

Nature is good for the body, mind and soul. Ok—we know we are preaching to the proverbial choir— but it is true.

Research continues to show that the amount of time kids spend outdoors has an impact on academics, their self-esteem, and their mental and physical health. No matter where a child is from or what that child’s past has been, nature offers unlimited opportunities for learning, growing, and finding peace. Just ask, Coyote (also known as Barbara Waller), the creator and director of Cool Learning Ex- perience in Waukegan, Illinois—how getting kids outdoors makes a difference.

Over the past several years, Barbara and her daughter, Kimberly (Monarch Butterfly) have organized a six-week summer program for upper elementary kids in Waukegan, Il- linois. Their mission is to foster the well-be- ing of children—mind, body, soul and spirit within the context of the web of relationship among which they live out their lives.

They are also raising academic performance. One of their most outstanding accomplish- ments was a marked increase (overall 17% for all grades) in students’ academic per- formance as measured by the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) sample exam in the areas of science and reading.

After choosing their own token animal name, the students are encouraged to be kids! For example, in their “Exploring Waukegan’s Ravines” activity—children investigate wild places in their neighborhood: Waukegan’s ravine system, lakefront dunes, beach, and harbor areas. Nature games and self-discovery activities heighten the childrens’ interest, fos- ter a “sense of place,” and stimulate a thirst to learn more about the local environment. Children bring the learning home, encour- aging their parents to conserve water and re- cycle.

One parent shared a story of how her son encouraged his grandfather, an avo- cado farmer in Mexico, to use composting to replace some of his expensive fertilizers. CLE receives Freshwater Future’s 2011 Grassroots Organization Advocate Award for sharing their love of nature and grow- ing future engaged citizens, and most im- portantly strengthening a community by connecting people to their local resources.

Group Award: Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve – Big Bay, MI

If you asked Cynthia Pryor, 16 years ago what was the biggest threat to the Yellow Dog River—she probably would have answered unchecked logging. In 1995, when the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve first organized, mining was not on the radar screen.

In 2003, that changed when Kennecott Minerals— a Utah based mining company revealed a proposed mining site located directly below the Salmon Trout River, adjacent to the Yellow Dog River, all within a watershed that drains to Lake Superior. In addition, the location of the mining facility is next to a rock outcropping known by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as Eagle Rock, a site of spiritual significance to the tribe.

For several years, numerous volunteers and the small staff of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve—Cynthia, Emily Whittaker, Chauncey Moran, and Wendy Johnson— have worked to raise awareness of the looming threats of sulfide mining in this Great Lakes watershed.

The 2011 Grassroots Advocate Award for an Organization goes to the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve for their leadership to build a collaborative effort and partnerships to protect the Salmon Trout River and the surrounding environment from the negative impacts associated with mining. The Yellow Dog has demonstrated that addressing threats to our environment are best accomplished by local groups working with partners. Through each hurdle whether legal or administrative, the Yellow Dog remained optimistic and never gave up.

While construction of the mining facility began in the spring of 2010 and this past fall, blasting began at Eagle Rock,Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve has persevered and today is diligently monitoring the operations and doing all it can to hold the mining industry accountable and protect the watershed.

The dedicated staff and volunteers of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve are to be commended for all they have done and continue to do to protect this northern Michigan wilderness watershed.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.