New leadership vows to keep Yadkin River clean

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Will Scott, an expert in environmental law, is the riverkeeper for the Yadkin River. (Christine Rucker)

BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — Under new leadership, the nonprofit Yadkin Riverkeeper plans to increase membership, raise awareness about the river and continue applying the force of clean-water laws against polluters, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Terri Pratt, who specializes in fundraising and membership recruitment, has been selected as the new executive director. Will Scott, an expert in environmental law, has been selected as the new riverkeeper.

For years, the roles of riverkeeper and executive director had both been juggled by one person, Dean Naujoks, who started working at the organization in 2008 and left in July.

Pratt, Scott and Naujoks said that he left on amicable terms.

For Naujoks, it was time to move on, after 13 years of 60- to 70-hour work weeks, first as the Neuse riverkeeper and then as the Yadkin riverkeeper, he said. He’ll spend more time with his family, continue to work on advocacy issues and will do some consulting, he said. The organization, which is based in Winston-Salem, is in “good financial shape” and has a “good staff,” he said.

The change in leadership and new two-pronged approach to management is indicative of how much the organization has grown – to as many as 1,000 members, Scott and Pratt said.

Scott, 30, will care for “the health of the river,” and Pratt, 55, will care for “the health of the organization,” she said in an interview this week.

“They both have passion for the health of our waters, and we significantly enhanced our legal acumen to help us fight some of the biggest polluters that we face,” said Liz Bozeman, president of the board of directors.

The headwaters of the Yadkin start near Blowing Rock in Northwest North Carolina.

The river travels more than 200 miles east and then south through the central part of the state, flowing by Winston-Salem, Statesville, Lexington and Salisbury – before its name changes to the Pee Dee River, according to the N.C. Office of Environmental Education. The Pee Dee travels another 230 miles, cutting through South Carolina before it hits the Atlantic Ocean.

Along both rivers’ path lie countless stories of their impact on daily lives – whether through farming, canoeing or simply turning on tap water. In Winston-Salem, the water that flows through sink faucets, for example, comes from the Yadkin.

Standing on the shoulders of federal and state clean water laws, the Yadkin Riverkeeper has taken action on a number of fronts in an effort to fight pollution.

In October, the Yadkin Riverkeeper asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an investigation into the shuttered Badin Works aluminum smelter in Badin to determine whether the smelter should be declared a Superfund site.

Also, the Southern Environmental Law Center worked with Yadkin Riverkeeper on a resolution to the coal ash pollution at the Buck Steam Station, owned by Duke Energy.

In Thomasville, the SELC helped forge an agreement between the nonprofit organization and the city to upgrade its sewer infrastructure and reduce sewage spills into rivers and streams in the Yadkin River Basin.

In 2010, the organization won a major legal victory that led to the state of North Carolina revoking Alcoa Inc.’s water quality certification. And in 2011, the organization challenged Alcoa’s claim of riverbed ownership.

“Yadkin Riverkeeper holds the position that the state of North Carolina is the sole and exclusive owner of the Yadkin riverbed,” Scott said. Later, he continued: “Whoever ends up owning the dams along the Yadkin, they will have an obligation, profiting from public waters, to work with communities along the Yadkin to ensure that the river is managed for the public good.”

Scott comes with experience not only as an environmental advocate but also as someone who has an understanding of the laws that can be used to protect water. A UNC School of Law graduate, Scott did a stint at the Southern Environmental Law Center. He also was a research assistant at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

For her part, Pratt, who has been the interim executive director since August, comes with an extensive fundraising background, including seven years at the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. For the past five years, she has led the Yadkin Riverkeeper’s fundraising initiatives. Recently, she said, the organization received a $25,000 matching grant from a sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Naujoks was a key part of the organization’s growth.

Part of his legacy will be seen in the way the organization manages the next phase of growth – splitting the two hats he once wore. Pratt’s fundraising work will allow Scott to focus on advocacy – and vice versa. The more time a person spends fundraising, the less time there is for advocacy.

Under the new leadership, the organization’s focus remains clear.

“I think it’s a fundamental right: clean water,” Pratt said.

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