Riverkeeper kicks off environmental talks

Jeff Kelble

By now, Jeff Kelble is used to passionate conversations about the Shenandoah River.

As president of Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., Kelble has been advocating for the health of both the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers for a decade.

Kelble once again got to share his passionate stance on the river in a public forum recently at the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal.

Following a brief overview of the organization and its goals, Kelble’s talk evolved into a question-and-answer session with residents pondering the impacts of algae, fracking and cattle.

“That was a normal night,” Kelble said, adding that almost every presentation evolves that way because “people are really curious about the river.”

The most meaningful stuff, Kelble said, comes from the audience’s questions and participation.

Kelble’s presentation was the first of a new series of talks that Friends of Samuels Library are hoping to put on in 2015 and beyond.

Joan Richardson, the chairman for the board of directors for Friends Of Samuels Library, said this was an idea that she approached the board about in December.

“We decided as a group that we wanted to do … programs that would talk about the environment as Warren County experiences it,” Richardson said.

Beginning with Kelble, Richardson said, was an easy decision because “the river is such an important part of this landscape.”

The river is certainly an area of personal interest for Kelble.

During his presentation, Kelble noted that he got into the job of the Shenandoah Riverkeeper after spending time as a fishing tour guide on the river.

Kelble explained that the organization is aggressive and has “high expectations of people out there as far as taking care of the river.”

At the same time, Kelble said, “We are understanding of the difficulties. We are not blind to them.”

Landowners attending the meeting raised questions as to how conservation fencing efforts would impact residential farming.

On the one hand, fencing cattle off from the river would help with contamination issues, however it might impact farming operations and “Cause financial difficulties.”

“Those kinds of discussions are the most important,” Kelble said.

Kelble also said that the presentation actually gave him a few ideas moving forward that “reinforce” aspects of things he has been worried about.

“One landowner told me that they were worried about the gravel roads that come out of the National Forest and steep terrain,” he said, “I’ve been worrying about that, too.”

Kelble said that he is not sure what the solution might be, but that “there might an approach with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] … to try to find a solution.”

On the whole, Kelble said the Potomac Riverkeeper interacts and works with about 100 organizations outside of VDOT.

In addition, Kelble noted that Potomac Riverkeeper Inc. does have some lobbying aspect that pertains to agencies, rather than political parties or candidates.

“We do more regulatory reform and litigation than we do legislation,” Kelble said, adding, “We don’t think we need any more laws in most cases.”

In most cases, Kelble said, the problems on the river “are solved with existing legislation, if agencies would employ the full capability of the law. Which they don’t.”

In other words, Kelble and the organization works toward getting regulatory agencies “to do more with what they’ve got.”

To Kelble and the organization, success means “measuring the amount of pollution … and identifying threats to public access.”

To get there, Kelble and his staff sometimes works with about 100 organizations including VDOT, and relays on citizen reporting and coordinates with representatives.

In his current job, Kelble said he is primarily “working on organizational issues” that does not allow him to physically be on the river as much.

“I’m supporting an organization that is allowing people to do what I did,” he said, “I’ll have three riverkeepers that I’m basically creating a safe house for.”

With this safe house, Kelble said, “I want the riverkeepers to figure out how to fix problems on the river, ensuring public access … and fighting pollution problems.”

Part of what will make Kelble and the organization’s efforts in extending its coverage range is the fact that they have hired two new riverkeepers, alongside the current upper Potomac riverkeeper.

Kelble said that the new riverkeepers for Potomac and Shenandoah will be announced in March.

The next talk at Samuels Library will take place March 19. Linda Burchfiel, fracking issues chair for the Virginia Sierra Club, will discuss fracking.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com