Champions of Raritan River recognized at 11th Annual Raritan River Conference

Five individuals and one organization received Sustainable Raritan River Awards at the 11th Annual Sustainable Raritan Conference and Awards Ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2019.  The annual awards recognize outstanding achievement in efforts to revitalize, restore and protect the Raritan resources and promote the area as a premier place to live, work and raise a family.

“It has been tremendously gratifying over the course of the last decade to have the opportunity to recognize local individuals and organizations who make a difference every day in the quality of life and the condition of our environment here in the Raritan Watershed,” stated Michael Catania of Duke Farms, one of the judges for these awards. “These awards are a chance to acknowledge and thank these quiet heroes as they inspire all of us to do what we can to protect the Queen of Rivers”

The Sustainable Raritan Awards, established in 2010, promote innovation and energize local efforts to restore and protect the rivers, streams, and habitat of the Raritan River and Bay.  The awards highlight extraordinary accomplishments and inspire other groups and individuals across the watershed to achieve comparable levels of excellence.

“Congratulations and a hearty thank you to the 2019 Sustainable Raritan River Initiative awardees for their dedication to improving the ecology of this great River, from its headwaters to its confluence with Raritan Bay,” said Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

This year’s recipients and their achievements are as follows:

Public Education Award – Michele Bakacs, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers University
Michele Bakacs has been a staunch champion of Environmental Education in the Lower Raritan Watershed for more than a decade. She has developed and conducted rain barrel builds, rain garden workshops, Green Infrastructure, and community gardening learning sessions, and leads remediation outreach and much more to the English and Spanish speaking residents of Middlesex and Union Counties. In recent years she has oriented the education and outreach work conducted by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Office to include a stronger focus on Raritan River issues.

In addition, Ms. Bakacs has worked to build the capacity of area nonprofits to develop and offer environmental education programming that addresses Raritan River issues. She helped ensure the successful launch of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership by making connections to expand LRWP’s network of partners, by lending her expertise in K-12 science standards and resources, and by helping the LRWP focus on areas in need. She also helped launch a new civic science bacterial monitoring program for the freshwater/brackish areas of the Raritan River.

Citizen Action Award – Susan Edmunds, Mill Brook Guardian
Through her on-going stewardship and historical research on Mill Brook, Dr. Susan Edmunds has documented the condition of this tributary of the Raritan River for the past 30 years, while helping to clean litter from the stream, maintain its riparian buffers and restore portions of degraded areas.  As a self-appointed guardian and advocate of the ecological well-being of the Mill Brook, Dr. Edmunds has continuously learned about and shared her understanding of how people, especially residents living along the Mill Brook, can better care for this waterway.  To this end, she has researched and photographed the Brook and synthesized her findings into a wonderful online storymap, “Millbrook: Portrait of an Urban Stream.”

Dr. Edmunds has shared the history and ecology of the Mill Brook many times at nearby venues, on local television programs, and through informal conversations.  She has successfully encouraged others to appreciate the Mill Brook as much as she does, and believes and has clearly demonstrated that, when residents visit and learn about Mill Brook, they too will become good stream stewards.

Stewardship Award – Doriann Kerber, Councilwoman, Borough of Milltown
Ms. Kerber has been instrumental in engaging the local community to address the municipality’s stormwater issues with green infrastructure.  She brings tremendous energy to all her projects. Her extensive community volunteering goes far beyond work in her hometown of Milltown to include serving as voting member of the Middlesex County Water Resources Association, member of the Jersey Water Works Green Infrastructure Committee, member of the Milltown Green Team, member of the East Brunswick Green Team, member of the East Brunswick Sustainable Task Force, and member of the Board of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.  She also has completed the Rutgers Green Infrastructure Training Course to become a Green Infrastructure Champion.

Councilwoman Kerber is a steward of stewards. Ms. Kerber believes in community outreach, and she helps the larger Central New Jersey community improve their environmental stewardship by volunteering to assist them as they implement local Green Infrastructure projects. Ms. Kerber has helped multiple communities identify and write thousands of dollars of grants for Green Infrastructure projects. When the grants come through, she organizes community members to remove impermeable surfaces and plant rain gardens, and she works to ensure community capacity for on-going maintenance and stewardship.

Leadership Award – Walter C. Lane, Director of Planning, Somerset County
Under Mr. Lane’s astute leadership since 2014, the Somerset County Planning Division is widely recognized as a planning leader in New Jersey. In his role as Planning Director, Mr. Lane has initiated and successfully implemented highly innovative and award-winning projects that support economic development while preserving vast amounts of open space and active farmland. The success of these efforts is due to his leadership and the collaborative working relationships he has established with the 21 municipalities in Somerset County, the Somerset County Business Partnership, state, and regional agencies and a multitude of public- and private-sector partners.

He has worked tirelessly to advance the County’s planning priorities. Many of the planning initiatives launched in Somerset County during the last several years address the key issues originally outlined in the Sustainable Raritan River Action Plan. These planning projects support efforts to preserve critical habitat, sustainable redevelopment, public access to the Raritan River, stormwater management and resiliency.

Citizen Action Award – James “Jamie” Lemieux, Student, Raritan Valley Community College
Jamie Lemieux is a full-time student in environmental science at RVCC. As a part-time campus sustainability intern, he spent the fall of 2018 repairing a large deer exclosure in the riparian buffer on campus and removing invasive species from the area. He also periodically collected water and soil samples from inside and outside the exclosure to help monitor changes in soil and water quality over time. Mr. Lemieux also took the initiative to apply for a Nature Conservancy Roots for Rivers grant to expand the riparian buffer along the stream that runs through campus and drains to the North Branch of the Raritan River. After receiving funding, and with support from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, he ordered 350 trees and shrubs and organized teams of student volunteers to plant and secure the trees.

Mr. Lemieux also assisted the Manville Green Team with their own Roots for Rivers grant. They had received the funding but were having difficulty marshaling the manpower and expertise to implement the project. With support from the Green Team and Manville’s Department of Public Works, Jamie made the arrangements to order the trees and shrubs and have them delivered and then organized volunteers to get the vegetation and tree guards in the ground.

Government Innovation Award – Monmouth County Division of Planning – Naval Weapons Station Earle Partnership
The NWS Earle Joint Land Use Study and Climate Resiliency response is a study and planning partnership which aims to help protect and restore natural lands and shorelines and provide climate resilience to the area surrounding Naval Weapons Station Earle. The partners took steps to implement the study by negotiating for a five-year land purchase agreement through the federal Readiness and Environmental Integration (REPI) Program.  In the first year, this program is contributing $765,000 toward open land acquisition within the Raritan Watershed near Earle, and that amount will be matched by other funds.

Additionally, the partners are conducting a Climate Resilience Study for Raritan Bay, which is designed to improve the resiliency of NWS Earle facilities and navigation channels by proposing at least ten resilience projects that vary in size and scope and could include living shoreline creation, wetland restorations, habitat improvements, and stormwater management improvements.  A key to the success of this partnership has been Monmouth County and NWS Earle’s strong successful outreach to local communities and conservation organizations to ensure that detailed information is included and to maximize the engagement and support of local residents and elected officials.

“New Jersey should be very proud of the incredible work being done in the Raritan Basin.  It’s an honor to help recognize a select few of the many talented people and organizations dedicated to a brighter future for our river and its communities,” noted Bill Kibler, Director of Policy at Raritan Headwaters.

The 2019 Awards Committee included Michael Catania, Executive Director of Duke Farms, William Kibler, Director of Policy for the Raritan Headwaters, and Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper.  All three of the organizations that they represent are members of the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative, a growing network of over 130 organizations, governmental entities and businesses in the Raritan River region working together to balance social, economic and environmental objectives towards the common goal of restoring the Raritan River, its tributaries and its estuary for current and future generations.

Rutgers University launched the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative in 2009 to bring together concerned scientists, environmentalists, engineers, businesses, community leaders and governmental entities to craft an agenda that meets the goals of the U.S. Clean Water Act to restore and preserve New Jersey’s Raritan River, its tributaries and its bay.  The Initiative, a joint program of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, partners with other Rutgers schools, centers and programs to ensure the best contributions from the sciences, planning, and policy.

Award nominations are accepted throughout the year.  To learn more about the Awards, the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative, or Rutgers’ Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, visit www.raritan.rutgers.edu.