NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–At its eighth annual awards ceremony, the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative and Sustainable River Collaborative recognized eight individuals and groups for their creative and innovative projects aimed at restoring and protecting the Raritan River and its tributaries.
Founded by Rutgers University in 2009, the initiative aims to bring together governments, businesses, scientists, engineers, environmentalists, and community leaders to restore and protect the Raritan River, tributaries, and bay.
In 2010, more than 130 businesses, government entities, and organizations in the river area formed the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative with the goal of restoring the river for future generations.
Among the awardees at the June 10 ceremony were Raritan Riverkeeper’s Bill Schultz, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) Water Resources Program Team led by Dr. Chris Obropta, and the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science, and Education.
Awards were given in eight categories: leadership (two recipients), public education (two recipients), sustainability, government innovation, stewardship (two recipients), and non-profit innovation.
Debbie Mans, Awards Committee member as well as Baykeeper and Executive Director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper, praised the high “level of dedication and range of activities by so many people this past year” in projects aimed at protecting the Raritan and its resources and promote it as a place to live and work.
Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz and environmental activist Candace Ashmun were both honored with Leadership Awards.
Schultz provides technical advice, on-site assistance, and help in pollution enforcement to numerous communities along the river. With the goal of making the river accessible for all recreational activities, including swimming, fishing, and boating, he is viewed by many as the river’s “voice.”
He has held the Riverkeeper position for ten years and strongly advocates remediation of all toxic sites along the river.
Ashmun, a member of both the Pinelands Commission and the State Planning Commission, was commended for 50 years of leadership in efforts to protect the Raritan River
A founding member of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC), Ashmun has mentored many local environmental leaders and is nationally recognized for her expertise in regional planning.
Both Dr. Chris Obropta and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program Team and Eric Zwerling, member of the Readington Township Board of Education and Chairperson of the Board’s Green Committee, were given Public Education Awards.
Led by Obropta, the Water Resources Program Team has embarked on an ambitious project aimed at reducing the impact of flooding from impervious surfaces in the Raritan River Basin.
Titled “Incorporating Green Infrastructure Resiliency in the Raritan River Basin,” the initiative focuses on project design geared toward improving water quality and wildlife habitat along the river.
Zwerling played a lead role in drafting his district’s Energy Conservation Policy, which focuses on promoting energy conservation, sustainable practices, and environmental education. Under his leadership, three of the district’s four buildings are being fitted with solar panels.
The Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association’s Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science, and Education was honored with a Sustainability Award for its green buildings’ “best practices” strategy.
The association’s LEED-Platinum Center is an example of landscape design that incorporates native species, protects the regions ecological resources, and provides a public gateway to the area.
Somerset County’s Green Leadership Hub, a pilot program operating in conjunction with Sustainable Jersey to assist cities and towns seeking Sustainable Jersey certification, was given the Government Innovation Award.
The Hub assists municipalities in creating resource inventories, advising local officials, providing environmental expertise, and offering an assistance program to address specific issues.
For their success in preserving the 172-acre Lana Lobell Farm in Bedminster, Beth Davisson and Larry Jacobs were honored with the Stewardship Award.
A ten-year effort that involved non-profits and all levels of government, the farm’s preservation will assist in protecting the Lamington River’s water quality and preserve both a working farm and the rural character of western Somerset County.
The Non-Profit Innovation Award went to the New Jersey Highlands Coalition’s Small Grants Program, an initiative that has given small grants to support projects that protect the Highlands’ environmental, historic, and cultural resources, one of which is the Raritan River watershed.
Noting many projects submitted to the Awards Committee did not fit the existing categories, committee member Bill Kibbler, who is also Director of Policy for the Raritan Headwaters, announced that a new Citizen Action category will be added next year.
Citizen Action will “encourage and recognize these types of individual commitments to projects such as stream cleanups, water quality monitoring, and similar critical citizen actions.”
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer with a BA in journalism from Rutgers University. She lives in Highland Park, NJ, where she was elected as a Democratic Municipal Committee representative for the 10th district in 2023.