Kennedy keynotes Riverkeeper meeting
By Parish Howard
Jefferson County and the Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeepers played host to two powerful voices in the modern environmental movement Saturday, and raised a great deal of money for their organization.
Noted environmental advocate and one of the founding members of the original Riverkeepers’ Organization, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was the keynote speaker for the event, which was held at Old Town Plantation outside of Louisville.
The gathering of more than 200 Ogeechee River enthusiasts also met Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land, a founding member of the Altamaha Riverkeeper and board member of the Satilla Riverkeeper.
“It was extraordinarily successful,” said Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper Chandra Brown. “We raised a lot of money, but it was also about building support and raising awareness.”
The gathering drew a crowd from across the state.
“There were even people here from New York who own property on the Ogeechee,” Brown said. “They all came to celebrate the river.”
The event, a fundraiser for the organization, included a show by the Georgia Southern University Raptor Center, a live and silent auction, catered dinner and live music.
“The preliminary numbers are in and it looks like we raised between $140,000 and $150,000,” Brown said.
The money, she said, will support the organization’s three primary goals which include: awareness programs directed at the school systems; the complaint response and monitoring the river itself; and its advocacy work which includes both its mercury program and its work to help shape the state’s water use plan which is expected to go before the legislature this session.
OCRK does enviroscape demonstrations in schools across the Ogeechee basin showing how pollution gets into the water cycle.
“A lot of people may be far from a river, but they don’t realize that regardless, everything they do flows down storm drains and eventually into a stream,” Brown said. “The money will also go towards our complaint response, which is probably our biggest thing. Where we used to get a call or two, now we’re getting three or four requests for help every week. The money will help pay our staffs so that when someone reports a problem our people can go out and check it out, help suggest solutions for the problem or file a report if that is required.”
The group’s advocacy work addresses the broader issues affecting our river systems.
“Mercury is a huge problem in the Ogeechee,” Brown said. “We have fought and won more stringent laws in Georgia than on the national level, but they are not perfect.”
OCRK works to make sure that the mercury level in the fish of the Ogeechee is regularly monitored. It has also been vocal in advising lawmakers on the statewide water plan.
“Our primary goal is to elevate the voices of the people who love and care about the Ogeechee River,” Brown said. “We believe that access to clean water is an absolute necessity for a vibrant, healthy, safe and economically sustainable community.”
Brown said that the keynote speaker had stayed the night at Old Town.
Kennedy shared the history of the Riverkeeper’s organization, how it was created by fishermen and residents along the Hudson River who had seen the source of their livelihoods become a national joke.
He shared how this group fought, not to change the law, but to enforce it and how it turned one of the most polluted rivers in the country into one of the cleanest by taking the companies to court who had been illegally discharging into the river for years.
He talked about how the organization has grown so that now there is a Riverkeeper on every stream along the American west coast, much of the east coast, and how it is expanding throughout the world.
“We are reminding people that they own this water,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to the government. It doesn’t belong to Georgia Power or any industrial farm. It belongs to the people…This is in the Magna Carta, every state’s constitution.”
He lamented that in recent years the environmental movement has been painted as a democratic platform.
“There is no such thing as a republican or democratic child,” Kennedy pointed out. “But environmentalists are being marginalized as tree huggers. There is nothing radical or militant about wanting clean water and clean air.”
He went on to say that the current administration has had the worst environmental record in American history, pointing out that the NRDC website lists 400 regulatory rollbacks that it has enacted that essentially eliminates 30 years of environmental law.
Kennedy pointed to Georgia’s coal burning power plants as one of the major issues in the state.
“It is not about protecting the environment for the fishes and birds, but for ourselves, for our children,” he said. “And it’s about more than that. What we are seeing is a subversion of our American Democracy.
“I was talking to Martha (Black) about how much of this I should go into, and she told me ‘People need to know this.’”
He said that when you can no longer take your children fishing on the Ogeechee and then safely eat those fish because of their mercury content, then “that’s a theft.”
Kennedy borrowed an American Indian proverb and told those gathered, “We don’t inherit this place from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Growing our own teachers
By Carol McLeod
Jefferson County individuals who study education in college may be eligible for assistance from a new scholarship/loan implemented by the local Board of Education.
“Mr. Dade Kelley was the valedictorian of Wadley High School in the early 1900s,” the Jefferson BOE said in a recent press release. “At his death, he bequeathed $50,000 to the Jefferson County School System for the purpose of continuing the education of young people in Jefferson County. The Board is using this money to fund a perpetual teacher loan/scholarship for Jefferson County, and we need your help to make it happen. At present interest rates, additional funding is needed to be able to award the scholarship annually and perpetually without breaks.”
The scholarship/loan will be to help grow the county’s teachers, Julia Wells, the principal of Wrens Middle School and the committee chair of the program, said. “It’s so competitive, getting quality teachers,” she said. “(This will) help somebody go to college to come back to teach in Jefferson County. If they teach for a year, then $1,000 of the scholarship/loan is forgiven. If they teach four years then 100 percent is forgiven.”
The scholarship/loan is $1,000 per year while the student is in college. If the student doesn’t teach in the county, then the money must be repaid, she said.
“Our initial goal is to fund one scholarship each year; so, by the fourth year, we’ll have four annual recipients,” said Renee Week, Jefferson County’s BOE comptroller. “It’s an opportunity for Jefferson County High School seniors entering college to pursue a degree in education.”
Weeks said a brochure has already been put together for the students who might be interested in applying for help from the fund.
“Our initial goal was $81,000,” she said. “Interest rates have dropped since then so our goal is now around $100,000. This level of principal should allow us to meet the scholarship’s financial obligations using interest alone.”
BOE employees, businesses and civic organizations have already made contributions to the fund in order to help reach the goal, she said.
“Right now we have $56,000 in the fund.”
Carl Bethune, the county’s school board superintendent, encourages any group or individual willing to help with this endeavor to make contribution checks payable to the Jefferson County Board of Education with “Dade Kelley Scholarship” written clearly on the memo line.
“Your help in this worthwhile endeavor is greatly appreciated,” he said.
Final Best Of ballot in this week's edition
From the Editor
This week's edition contains the last ballot for The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter's 2007 Best of Jefferson County contest.
For years now we at your hometown newspaper have been offering our readers the opportunity to recognize area businesses and individuals who provide exemplary service and products in a very public forum.
Not only can you vote for the best bankteller, lawyer or plumber, the best ice cream, fried chicken or food service, but we also ask you to vote for the best public servant, such as teacher, fire fighter, law enforcement officer or mail carrier.
This page has been accessed times.
The recipients of these awards take your votes very seriously and most, if not all, of those recognized proudly display their plaques for years in their establishments.
For our complete list of 61 categories, see our official ballot and the full list of rules on Page 5B of this edition and don't miss our deadline of Oct. 29.