It feels like going home when I arrive at the Washington County Fair near Schuylerville, New York. This year, the fair was held August 24-30 and I helped staff EPA’s information booth for the Hudson dredging project. Walking around the fairgrounds, I could almost see my Uncle Joe showing his prize Jersey cattle at the Southeast Missouri District Fair in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, my hometown. I also saw all the many distractions and temptations, like the 4-H milkshakes, livestock exhibits (the poultry barn is my favorite), Ferris wheels, and tractor pulls!
You can easily feel a strong sense of community and meet salt-of-the earth locals who tell it like it is. It’s EPA’s sixth year at the fair and a unique opportunity to gauge local issues outside of the media coverage and beyond what we hear at EPA’s public meetings. Many who came to the EPA booth had not been to our public meetings. Most folks seemed to really enjoy the chance to talk with us about dredging in a personal setting. It’s not every day that you can watch a tractor pull while discussing barge tugs pushing loads of sediment.
We spoke to 850 property owners, teachers, kayakers, retired seniors, children and others who paused from the fun and food to say hello, watch a dredging video, look at a map. “Where’s my property on this map?” ”When are they going to dredge there?” “Why did EPA select clamshell dredging over hydraulic?” A few of the typical questions asked. Some felt dredging is unnecessary. “Let sleeping dogs lie!” a few said, but then stuck around to learn more. What struck me was the number of “thank yous” (some whispered) and support for the cleanup. It was encouraging to hear in these dog days of dredging.
Sneaking over to the 4-H food booth, I remembered my dad, who worked as a riverboat mechanic on the Mississippi River. He taught me a lot about rivers. Summer mornings as a child were spent fishing the Mississippi. We set out trot lines baited with chicken liver. Every morning my heart would be racing as we pulled in the lines, mostly catching catfish (some taller than I was). Occasionally we’d get a real surprise when we pulled in a snapping turtle or an eel. My summers on the Mississippi ignited a love of and respect for rivers and a desire to clean and protect them for others to enjoy. I guess I also learned then, as I’m reminded now with the Hudson, that when it comes to rivers, be surprised if there are no surprises!
Like the midway rides at the fair, with their ups and towns, the dredging project has shown us some ups and downs and surprises. But EPA and its partners in the cleanup persevere, I believe, because on some level a river connects us all. And the fair reminds EPA who exactly the Hudson connects us with.
About the Author: David Kluesner grew up in rural southeast Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Geological Engineering. He has worked for EPA for 22 years as a hazardous waste site cleanup manager in EPA’s Atlanta office, and in EPA Headquarters in enforcement and policy development, and presently serves as a Community Involvement Coordinator in EPA’s New York City office where he works on a number of sites in New York and New Jersey, including the Hudson cleanup project.