Our History

Hackensack RIVERKEEPER® Historical Timeline

    1. After several years of local environmental activism, volunteering with the NY/NJ Baykeeper Boating Auxiliary and earning his US Coast Guard Master’s License, taxi dispatcher, ex-drummer and lifelong fisherman Bill Sheehan of Secaucus, NJ reaches a major milestone in his life. He receives permission from the Alliance of River, Sound and Baykeepers (precursor of Waterkeeper Alliance) to call his organization Hackensack Riverkeeper. Captain Sheehan receives the NJ Audubon Society’s 1996 Conservationist of the Year Award.
    1. On Earth Day, the Keeper Vessel Robert H. Boyle, a 28-foot pontoon cruiser, is christened by the man for whom the boat is named – the same man who helped start the modern Waterkeeper movement. That year, over 1,000 people participate in Eco-Cruises aboard the new flagship. By the end of the year, grants from the Victoria Foundation and others provide the financial support necessary for Captain Bill to quit the taxi business for good and concentrate on keeping the river. The School of Natural Sciences at Fairleigh Dickinson University generously provides an office for Hackensack Riverkeeper on their Teaneck campus. The Hackensack Riverkeeper Watershed Watch Hotline (1-877-CPT-BILL) comes online in December.
    1. The NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs endorses Hackensack Riverkeeper’s call for preserving the Meadowlands. Hugh Carola and FDU student Jared Eudell begin volunteering in the Riverkeeper office. In July the organization launches the Hackensack Riverkeeper Canoe Project – the first small boat livery on the Hackensack River in over fifty years – at Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus. BSA Aquatics Instructor Eudell is hired as part-time Project Manager. Also in July, Carola is hired by the Hackensack Meadowlands Preservation Alliance (HMPA) – a coalition of public and private organizations dedicated to stopping a proposed 2.5 million square-ft. megamall from being built on the 600-acre Empire Tract. On December 28 Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt tours the Meadowlands with Riverkeeper and friends.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper escalates its two-front war in defense of the river and its estuary, the Meadowlands. In its longstanding battle with the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC), the organization marshals opposition to the proposed Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) which, if passed, could fill 1,800 acres of wetlands. And it’s “all Mills all the time” as Hackensack Riverkeeper leads a David vs. Goliath battle against the Virginia developer, culminating in a raucous and sometimes frightening public hearing in September that pits hundreds of construction workers against Riverkeeper and its HMPA allies. Kathy Urffer is hired as the organization’s first Operations Director; volunteer Lisa Ryan organizes and leads the Hackensack Riverkeeper River Cleanup Program.
    1. The year begins with Hugh Carola coming onboard as full-time Program Director. The tide in the Meadowlands finally begins to turn when Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, flanked by Captain Bill and Baykeeper Andy Willner, publicly declares that, “The day of filling wetlands in the Meadowlands is over!” The HMDC effectively kills the SAMP by withdrawing its support; Governor-elect Jim McGreevey calls for the establishment of the Meadowlands Estuary Preserve. At Hackensack Riverkeeper’s urging, the NJ Legislature rechristens the HMDC: NJ Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) and refocuses its mission to one of preserving the District’s remaining wetlands. After graduation, Jared Eudell starts fulltime and the first of our AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors, Christine Hirt, joins the team in September.
    1. The office at FDU is much too small for five people. Using $100,000 of court-ordered restitution from corporate polluter Columbia Terminals, Inc. and a $10,000 grant from PSE&G, Hackensack Riverkeeper purchases 231 Main Street in Hackensack – the “Capital of the Watershed”. Funding from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation enables the organization to purchase 12 kayaks for the renamed Hackensack Riverkeeper Paddling Center @ Laurel Hill Park. Funding from the City of Bayonne as a result of citizen action brought by Baykeeper allows Riverkeeper to acquire a second pontoon cruiser, the K/V Edward Abbey. With two boats, two captains are needed and Hugh Carola earns his US Coast Guard Master’s License after a two-year apprenticeship under Capt. Bill. Captain Carola
    1. After six years of Hackensack Riverkeeper’s constant opposition and after spending more than $100 million on PR, the Mills Corporation finally gives up on the Empire Tract and turns its attention to the Continental Arena where they will build Xanadu. Captain Bill and Riverkeeper begin advocating in earnest for Category One protections to be established on the river’s upper reaches. South of the Meadowlands, Hackensack Riverkeeper’s lawsuit against Honeywell International results in a $400 million cleanup order by a Federal court. The organization receives $30,000 from the NJ Attorney General’s office for its role in bringing another corporate polluter to justice and a NJDEP Award for Environmental Excellence. Lisa Kelly is hired as Hackensack Riverkeeper’s first Development Director.
    1. The year begins with a belated but welcome Holiday gift: the NJMC’s unanimous approval of the 2004 Meadowlands Master Plan which places all 8,400 acres of the District’s wetlands and waterways into conservation. On that day, Capt. Bill announces, “I declare the War of the Meadowlands over and we are now policing the peace.” Also in January, after years of advocacy and Riverkeeper-conducted education, NJ adopts Phase Two stormwater regulations. Captain Bill is named Bergen County’s Person of the Year and one of America’s River Heroes by American Rivers. Hackensack Riverkeeper conducts the first-ever Meadowlands Festival of Birding with its partners NJ Audubon and the NJMC. Riverkeeper and Baykeeper initiate the Passaic River Patrol. Lisa Ryan replaces Kathy Urffer as Operations Director.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper leads a successful fight against Wal-Mart’s attempt to build a gas station next to wetlands in Secaucus. It also leads thirty canoes and kayaks on a trip from NY State down to Newark Bay. The Empire Tract saga finally ends with Mills transferring ownership of the property to the Meadowlands Conservation Trust. MCT Chairman Bill Sheehan and Executive Director Tina Schvejda take title on March 25 and re-name it the Richard P. Kane Natural Area after the former NJ Audubon vice president. Riverkeeper kicks off its campaign against Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and sues the NY Susquehanna & Western Railroad for maintaining unregulated garbage dumps. The US Supreme Court refuses to hear Honeywell‘s appeal and the $400 million chromium cleanup begins.
    1. One of the most polluted places on the river – the Standard Chlorine factory site in Kearny –is the target of joint litigation by Hackensack Riverkeeper & NY/NJ Baykeeper. Captain Bill is named Co-Chair of the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee. Riverkeeper assists the production of (and features prominently in) the WNJN documentary Turning the Tide, a film about the Meadowlands. Captain Bill is elected to the Waterkeeper Alliance Board of Directors. Former Watershed Ambassador Nick Vos-Wein replaces Jared Eudell as Project Manager; Darlene Kasten comes aboard as Development Director & helps raise a record $70,000 at the Annual Awards Celebration & Sustainable SeafoodFest. Longtime volunteer Diane Saccoccia comes onboard and replaces Kasten in December.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper finalizes an action plan with the National Park Service to establish a Hackensack River Water Trail. The organization assists activists in Paramus defeat an attempt to develop 35 acres of Category One-protected watershed land, known as the Paramus Wetlands. For the first time in over 50 years, Ospreys successfully nest along the Hackensack River – on a platform constructed by PSE&G ten years earlier at Captain Bill’s request. Working in partnership with the Rutgers University Environmental Research Clinic, Hackensack Riverkeeper begins a ground-breaking project to establish populations of Eastern Oysters in the lower reaches of the river. Hackensack Riverkeeper celebrates its Tenth Anniversary as the Citizen Steward of the Hackensack River Watershed.
    1. In February, the organization and co-litigant NY/NJ Baykeeper settle a federal lawsuit against the NY Susquehanna & Western RR over unregulated garbage transfer facilities on company rights-of-way. That spring, Hackensack Riverkeeper announces settlement of a second Honeywell lawsuit filed two years earlier to force cleanup of additional company-owned properties in Jersey City. Captain Bill receives a 2008 Environmental Quality Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Longtime friend and advisor Beth Ravit becomes Trustee. The organization receives Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence from NJ Gov. Corzine. Hackensack Riverkeeper, unlike many other nonprofit organizations, is able to maintain both staff and effectiveness in spite of the recession.
    1. Christopher Len, Esq. comes aboard as Hackensack Riverkeeper’s first Staff Attorney. In March a state appeals court overturns a lower court challenge and prevents development of the Paramus Wetlands. Biggest victory of the year takes place when United Water NJ settles with Riverkeeper and co-plaintiff Bergen SWAN and places 3,300 acres of company-owned woodlands into NJDEP-held conservation easement. Hackensack Riverkeeper starts Clean Streets = Clean Water initiative with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department. Riverkeeper and NJ Attorney General’s Office team up and secure criminal indictment against Secaucus Crowne Plaza Hotel for unpermitted wastewater discharges to the Hackensack River. Cleanup work finally begins at Standard Chlorine site in Kearny; Riverkeeper monitors progress. Preliminary Oyster Project results show high mortality and improper growth rates among survivors.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper responds to Gov. Christie’s Transition team report, describing significant trepidation with the team’s recommendations for the NJDEP. The organization also opposes administration plans to curtail public waterfront access, and to rollback state environmental protections. Captain Bill Sheehan helps spearhead formation of NJ League of Conservation Voters. River Cleanup Program celebrates its 10th Anniversary of effective active conservation. Jodi Jamieson replaces Nick Vos-Wein as Project Manager. Crowne Plaza Hotel owners plead guilty; agree to $75,000 restitution payment to Hackensack Riverkeeper. Riverkeeper helps open Bergen County’s new Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park, NJ. In November, the group partners with John Dull Music and the Williams Center to produce the Pete and Toshi Seeger Wetlands Preservation Concert featuring the legendary folksinger.
    1. In February Attorney Len drafts and Hackensack Riverkeeper submits official comments supporting full dredging and cleanup of contaminants within the lower Passaic River. Hackensack Riverkeeper formally requests that NJDEP revoke Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) permits statewide. Administrative Law Judge Barry Moscowitz upholds DEP denial of permits for Paramus Wetlands destruction. At 3rd Annual Reservoir Challenge, United Water NJ commits $120.000 over four years to support Hackensack Riverkeeper. Emilio DeLia joins the staff as Development Director, replacing Diane Saccoccia. Hackensack Riverkeeper annual gala nets a record $53,000 in sponsorships and donations. Final Oyster Project data show widespread contamination of shellfish within lower Hackensack River watershed. Second Wetlands Preservation Concert sees Pete Seeger and fellow folksinger Tom Paxton on stage for clean water.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper; in partnership with NY/NJ Baykeeper, Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic, and the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center; files suit against the NJDEP to stop the issuance of CSO permits. Former NJMC Executive Director Robert Ceberio joins Hackensack Riverkeeper Board of Trustees. Longtime Operations Director Lisa Ryan realizes a lifelong dream and moves to south Jersey and two people are hired to replace her: Mary Knight takes over as Operations Director/Office Manager; and Sarah Menchise steps into the newly-created position of Events and Outreach Coordinator. Office at 231 Main Street gets a complete energy efficiency makeover thanks to a $30,000 grant from the Gardiner Foundation. Captain Bill Sheehan receives Environmental Legacy Award from NJ Environmental Lobby. Captain Hugh Carola is elected President of the Alliance for NJ Environmental Education (ANJEE). Hackensack Riverkeeper celebrates its 15th Anniversary milestone.
    1. In February Captains Bill Sheehan and Hugh Carola conducted a three-day lobbying trip to Washington DC, meeting with staffers from twelve Congressional/Senate offices in NJ and NY. The captains discussed post-Sandy resiliency strategies (Guiding Principles) as drafted by New Jersey’s environmental community. In July Hackensack Riverkeeper reestablished public access to the river in the Village of Ridgefield Park with the opening of a brand-new canoe/kayak launch dock, the installation of which was funded through a Nationals Trails Grant. Also in July, the organization opened its second watershed paddling center (the Overpeck Park Kayak Center) on Overpeck Creek in Teaneck, NJ in July. Hackensack Riverkeeper ends the year with a record-breaking program season: 6,995 people explored, paddled, cleaned, etc. the river and its watershed in 2013.
    1. For the first time in our history, we plan and host a major Earth Day event: EarthFest Overpeck at Overpeck County Park. The event attracted over 2,500 attendees and has since become one of Bergen County’s two major Earth Day celebrations. Sarah Menchise departs and Caitlin Doran comes onboard as Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator. The position of Development Director is divided into the part-time positions of Events Coordinator and Grant Writer. On the advocacy front, we call out the NJDEP for its non-enforcement of the ban of crabbing in the Hackensack River and Newark Bay complex; the NYDEC for its woefully inadequate Municipal Stormwater permits; and NJ Governor Chris Christie for his veto of bipartisan-supported Sewage Right-to-Know bill. With our colleagues on the NJ Keep It Green Campaign, we were successful in having the state’s voters pass a Constitutional amendment to create a stable source Green Acres funding. And the hits kept coming as we blew apart 2013’s Eco-Program n record thanks to our Overpeck Kayak Center: 10,502 people participate in our programs.
    1. Hackensack Riverkeeper helps found the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains to oppose the shipment of volatile Bakken crude oil our through our watershed, After a successful Capital Campaign that raised over $120,000, the brand-new 30-foot research vessels Robert H. Boyle II and Geraldine Theresa are commissioned on Earth Day, April 22. Andrea Leshak, Esq. takes over as Staff Attorney from Chris Len, who takes a position with Hudson Riverkeeper. Our “Development Department” takes shape with Jen Gannett as Grant Writer and longtime friend & Ducks Unlimited collaborator Mike Panos coming on as Donor Relations rep. On the advocacy front, we win a major court decision against the NJDEP regarding the agency’s denial of public waterfront access rights in northeast NJ; and the USEPA accepts our petition to survey the Hackensack River to determine if its sediments warrant Superfund listing. Also, Hackensack Riverkeeper goes on record opposing the Christie administration’s shellfish rules and development plans for Liberty State Park. Unbelievably our Eco-Program participation posts another record: 10,534 people.
    1. Our legal victory against the NJDEP is upheld by both the state Appellate Court and the NJ Supreme Court and as a result, a joint Legislature Committee starts crafting a proper public access rule. Contractors working for USEPA complete the agency’s sediment sampling protocol and turn samples and additional data for laboratory testing. Under strong pressure from Riverkeeper and our colleagues in conservation lead by the Friends of Liberty State Park, the Christie administration withdraws its proposal for development in the park. Our Urban Watershed Education Program reaches its 20-year milestone season under Jodi’s direction. We celebrate the opening of a new waterfront promenade/fishing dock at Laurel Hill Park with Riverfest – Pirates of the Hackensack, a youth fishing derby and SPLASH event. While Attorney Leshak oversaw a full docket of legal actions including monitoring of CSO and municipal stormwater (MS4) permits; and bolstering NJ’s Flood Hazard Rules in 2016, bad weather put a damper on our Eco-Program season. Still, we brought over 9,000 people onto the river and into the field.
    2. The Christie administration refuses to concur with USEPA’s recommendation that the lower Hackensack River be listed as a Superfund site. Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy’s policy team solicits out input for his environmental platform; first on the list is concurrence. PSEG decommissions its coal-burning Hudson Generating Station. Staff Attorney Michele Langa comes aboard; also joining us is Russ Wilke – our first dedicated Paddling Program Manager. We throw our support behind a plastic bag ban in Teaneck and declare our opposition to the proposed Transco Rivervale South gas pipeline. 9,422 people participate in our Eco-programs.
    3. We and our allies unequivocally oppose the North Bergen Liberty Generating Station, which is proposed to supply power to NYC exclusively. The long-awaited Berry’s Creek Superfund cleanup is finally green-lighted by federal & state agencies. We speak up for increasing public access to NJ’s waters and against weakening the state’s Municipal Stormwater Permits. We introduce our intensive, semester-long Junior Stewardship program at Hackensack Middle School. Lisa Vandenberg signs on as Office Manager. Over 10,000 Eco-program participants join us at the river, but we bid a sad farewell to Founding Trustee Margaret Utzinger.
    4. After unrelenting opposition, we DEFEAT the NBLG proposal as its former proponents “declare it dead”. New Jersey declares access to the state’s waters a Public Trust right. Captain Hugh witnesses a major pollution incident in progress, reports it immediately, and DEP enforcement make the bust in less than an hour. Our World Series of Birding team posts a record 131 species and raises over $11,000. Senator Loretta Weinberg and Wendy Neu are honored at our annual Gala. Our annual scholarship award is renamed the Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship in honor of the two Founding Trustees who passed away while serving on the board.
    5. The updated Meadowlands Master Plan is approved unanimously by the NJSEA with our complete agreement. We turn our attention to yet another powerplant proposal, this one by NJ Transit slated for Kearny. We lead our first-ever “Kayaktion” protest against it. Outreach Coordinator Samantha Kreisler joins us as the COVID-19 lockdown begins. ALL Eco-programs are put on hold and things are quiet until May 16 when 231 MAIN STREET IS WRECKED BY FIRE. Nevertheless, we persisted: We office-work from home, provide COVID-safe paddling for a record 7,553 people, join a regional water monitoring / testing program, and defeat the Kearny proposal. Sadly, another dear friend – Charlie Stelling – leaves us far too soon.
    6. We adapt to the new reality of COVID. ALL staff gets vaccinated. We continue safety protocols at our Paddling Centers, on Eco-Cruises and during Cleanups in what turns out to be one of our busiest seasons ever. We expand our water testing program. We step up for the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway, and for stronger CSO regs, and help Samsung USA take cleanups nation-wide. Outgoing Watershed Ambassador Tyler Tierney turns around & steps aboard as our new Outreach Coordinator. In July, Captain Bill joins Congressmen Pascrell and Gottheimer and DEP Commissioner LaTourette to announce that the Murphy administration concurs with EPA:  the lower river will be listed on the National Priorities (SUPERFUND) List.

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