Coastkeeper Coming?

After a bit of a lull, the Emerald Coastkeepers may soon be bringing someone new aboard to keep tabs on local environmental concerns.

“There’s an offer on the table for a new Coastkeeper,” said Larry B. Johnson recently.

Johnson, a Pensacola city councilman who also sits on the Coastkeepers’ Board of Trustees, said the environmental group recently interviewed candidates for the position, made an offer to its first choice and is hoping to hear back within a month. He described the prospective candidate as someone that is known locally in both the environmental and business communities.

“They would be an asset not only to the Coastkeepers, but to the community as a whole,” Johnson said.

The Emerald Coastkeepers is a satellite of the national Waterkeeper Alliance, a group of environmental advocacy organizations. A representative with the Waterkeeper Alliance recently described the local group as “inactive.”

“We’re just in between Coastkeepers right now,” said Chips Kirschenfeld, who once served as the local Coastkeeper and now sits on the organization’s Board of Directors. “I don’t think ‘inactive’ is really a proper word.”

During the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Coastkeeper Chassidy Hobbs was an active local voice on environmental matters. Since that time, the group has gone through two other Coastkeepers, with the position being vacant since last year.

“Right now, I’m the point person for Coastkeepers,” said Tony Gentry, the president of the Board of Directors, in late August.

Gentry described the organization as “alive, viable and well.” He said the Coastkeepers were in the midst of staff changes and “retooling.”

Sometime in the foreseeable future, Escambia County will be seeing a considerable windfall of money stemming from Clean Water Act fines collected from BP as a result of the oil spill. As county commissioners consider what portion of that money to spend on environmental restoration, the Coastkeepers—with a disconnected phone line and defunct email addresses—were noticeably absent from the conversation.

Kirschenfeld stressed that the organization has remained active. He said the Board of Directors meets regularly.

“Typically, we talk about fundraising efforts,” he said, explaining that the group normally raised around $40,000 from its annual auction and gala. “And we talk about the Coastkeeper position and review applications for that.”

Gentry said that the organization had been searching for someone who might fulfill its needs as a volunteer. An ideal candidate, he said, might be a student who could do some “career sampling” prior to moving forward with a paid position.

Following a late August lunchtime interview with the selected candidate, Johnson said that the group was looking to bring on a salary employee.

“We have funds available to us to make this happen,” he said, describing the interview as having gone “very, very well.”

The Emerald Coastkeepers are bordered by the Mobile Baykeepers to the west and the Apalachicola Riverkeepers to the east. Both of these groups are actively engaged in advising officials in regards to their respective pots of RESTORE money.

“We’re trying to work with the county to come up with projects that we think will restore the bay and the gulf,” said Dan Tonsmeire, Riverkeeper and executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeepers.