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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s historic 33-year run with Riverkeeper comes to a close

RFK, Jr.'s historic 33-year run with Riverkeeper comes to a close

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

On March 10, 2017, after 33 years of transformational leadership on the Riverkeeper staff and board, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. notified our chairman, Joseph L. Boren, that he is ending his historic run with our group.

The board and staff of Riverkeeper join together in wishing Bobby the very best, and thanking him deeply for his unparalleled contribution to our organization.

Here is Bobby and Joe’s exchange, which illustrates just how much Bobby’s hard work, thoughtful guidance and endless inspiration have meant to Riverkeeper:

To: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
From: Joseph L. Boren, Chairman
Date: March 11, 2017

Dear Bobby:

On behalf of the board and staff of Riverkeeper, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve this great organization with you. While none of us can come close to matching your 33 years of service at Riverkeeper, we all have benefited immeasurably from your skillful, courageous advocacy and transformative leadership.

In 1984, you became chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association. Two years later, you helped merge HRFA and Riverkeeper into a single organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Hudson and its tributaries from the damage done by generation after generation of industrial degradation and civic neglect. You’ve made it your life’s work to fight for the Hudson and its communities and to protect our precious drinking water supplies.

HRFA got its start in 1966, when commercial and recreational fishermen, many of them veterans, united to save their river, recognizing that outspoken, citizen-led advocacy was the only way to ensure that laws were enforced and their river, livelihood and the health of their families were protected.

Riverkeeper has taken on many of the nation’s biggest industrial polluters and won, because when there’s a battle over water quality on the Hudson, you led and inspired Riverkeeper to stay in it, for as long as it takes, to secure clean water and safe places to swim, fish and boat.

Whether on Quassaic Creek in Newburgh, where HRFA successfully sued 16 major polluters to end decades of disregard for a beloved local waterway, or in Croton-on-Hudson, where Riverkeeper gained closure of one of the state’s most notoriously harmful landfills, you spent the 1980s giving notice that the Hudson could no longer serve as an open sewer for industry and municipal government.

In the 1990’s, you spearheaded Riverkeeper’s expansion to help protect New York City’s upstate reservoir system, saving the city billions of dollars in unnecessary filtration costs and ensuring that tens of thousands of acres of sensitive reservoir buffer lands would be preserved, through the internationally-renowned 1997 NYC Watershed Agreement.

You helped found the Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, and the movement for clean water spread across the globe to encompass over 300 other keeper groups on six continents. The Alliance is now the world’s largest and fastest growing nonprofit focused solely on clean water.

Today, Hudson Riverkeeper — and most of its 300 partners in the Waterkeeper movement — operate in a very different environment than the one you faced in 1984. Riverkeeper is well-staffed and has the ear of business and government alike, as was seen most recently in January when Riverkeeper was a signatory — along with Entergy and New York State — to the historic agreement to close the Indian Point nuclear energy plant.

The Indian Point victory marked a capstone in your singularly successful tenure at Riverkeeper, as it will close the most dangerous industrial facility in the entire United States, one that represented an existential threat to 20 million New Yorkers and had decimated over a dozen different species of iconic Hudson River fish. I am so happy that we were able to achieve this win, together, before you left us.

My gratitude to you, for these and so many other signal achievements in protecting the Hudson and our drinking water, is boundless. On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of Riverkeeper, I salute and thank you for your unique and unparalleled contributions to the cause of clean drinking water and the Hudson River estuary, and your exemplary service to Riverkeeper and I wish you the very best, personally and professionally, in the future.

Yours truly,

Joseph L. Boren
Chairman of the Board
Riverkeeper, Inc.


To: Joseph Boren, Chairman
From: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Date: March 10, 2017

Dear Joe:

I write with great sadness to inform you that I have decided to resign as a board member and as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for Riverkeeper.

As you know, I have been reluctantly considering this move for over a year and previously asked the board for a leave of absence. But a series of recent events have aligned my thoughts and feelings and given me the clarity to conclude it’s time to move on.

As you know, I now live on the west coast and the weekly commute has been hard on my family to say nothing of my carbon footprint. Furthermore, keeping up with the exploding growth at Waterkeeper Alliance and my work with World Mercury Project have been consuming, increasing bandwidth leaving me little time to give Riverkeeper the attention it deserves.

Finally, our recent victory in our three decade battle to close Indian Point, marks both an important milestone for Riverkeeper and a good time for me to leave the organization at the top of its game.

I feel confident that we have built a strong team at Riverkeeper which no longer requires my day to day leadership. We have cemented a lasting alliance with the Pace Environmental Clinic. We have overwhelming support from the Hudson Valley community and a stable of celebrity friends and reliable funders all anxious to see Riverkeeper grow. Riverkeeper is as robust financially, and organizationally as any time in its history; its staff and board are primed to take on the Hudson’s polluters and carry the organization to the next level while continuing to provide inspirational leadership to the growing waterkeeper movement, which now includes 307 keepers in 35 countries – all modeled on the Hudson Riverkeeper template.

I don’t need to tell you that this has been a heart wrenching decision for me. It is extraordinarily difficult to leave the organization which I co-founded thirty-three years ago, built from the ground up and to which I’ve devoted most of my career. When I joined the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association in January of 1984, our office was John Cronin’s pick-up truck and we had a budget of zero. In the years that followed, we brought successful legal actions against many hundreds of polluters including some of the world’s most powerful entities, beginning with the Army Corps’ Westway Project, and including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the US Army at West Point, Exxon, Mobil Oil, ARCO, General Electric, Con Edison, Entergy, Anaconda Wire and Cable, and the State of New York, the cities of New York, Newburgh, Yonkers, and Westchester and Orange Counties. In the process, we saved the New York water supply, forced GE to dredge the Hudson, and preserved 300,000 acres of the Catskill Watershed, derailed miles of destructive highway and pipeline projects, and opened up public access along the length of the river. These and other victories have already paid off with dramatic improvements, in quality of life for residents of the Hudson Valley and New York City, a protected reservoir watershed that provides clean, cheap, drinking water for ten million New Yorkers, higher property values in our waterfront towns, bustling recreational boating activity and marina industry, and cleaner shorelines and waters that now provide millions of New Yorkers relief from the city heat, and peaceful places to find respite, spiritual renewal and sanctuary from the soul crushing pressures of modern life.

As I leave Riverkeeper in your capable hands, it is my greatest hope that the organization will never forget its roots in the Hudson’s commercial fishery. The goal of resurrecting the commercial fishery should forever represent magnetic north on Riverkeeper’s moral compass. For 350 years, the Hudson’s commercial fishery provided jobs and enriched the palate, the economy and the culture of the Hudson Valley. In economic downturns, it was the final safety net for New Yorkers; during the Great Depression, thousands of unemployed men descended on the Hudson to find jobs, sustenance and recreation. Hundreds of commercial fishing families once worked the Hudson for shad, sturgeon, striped bass and blue crab. Today there are only one or two beleaguered fishermen left on the river. A vibrant, sustainable commercial fishery will be the best testimony to the river’s health and to Riverkeeper’s effectiveness. The sight of working fishermen and women harvesting edible fish, free from contamination, and safe to eat, will reconnect New Yorkers to their storied marine history and will signal that the river is also swimmable and safe for other uses. I hope that Riverkeeper will never rest until the commercial fishery is restored and commercial fishing families are again working the river from the George Washington Bridge to the federal lock and dam at Troy.

I feel great pride in this organization. I know that the team I leave behind is capable and committed. I wish you the best. It goes without saying that I will always be here to help.



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