Captain Bill Sheehan has had his office at Hackensack’s 231 Main Street for 13 years but he’s been a lifelong resident of the Hackensack River Watershed, and an advocate, educator, hands-on conservationist and enforcer of preservation laws for 18 years as The Hackensack Riverkeeper ®.
He’s seen a lot of changes along the River and in the surrounding Meadowlands District since he first became interested in ecology in the 1980’s. In 1991 he became a volunteer for the NY/NJ Baykeeper, and shortly after that he realize that the Hackensack River desperately needed a full-time advocate to speak for the natural living resources of the Hackensack River. Five years later, he secured a trademark license to create a Hackensack Riverkeeper program which is recognized by the State and Federal Governments and assumed the role of Riverkeeper and Executive Director.
He’s happy to report that the public’s perception of the Hackensack River as dangerous and polluted has changed. Through educational activities that take place outdoors aboard the organization’s custom pontoon boats, he and his staff reach in excess of 3,000 people per season, and the ‘Our River Clean Up’ projects actively engage more than 1,000 volunteers from the general public and the business community. Additionally, he has seen a steady increase in the number of people that are reclaiming this recreational resource through kayaking, canoeing, and walking through Hackensack River’s banks.
In early 2015, Captain Sheehan petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency to perform a preliminary assessment of the river bed which ultimately determined that the Hackensack River is eligible for Superfund listing which means bringing the full force of the USEPA to bear on the most serious problems affecting the River. The ultimate community benefit will be an end to prohibitions regarding the consumption of locally caught fish and bringing swimming back to the watershed. These activities will allow for the emergence of a recreational economy.
It is one of many steps that he is taking to preserve the Meadowlands District which once included 21,000 acres of wetland habitat but is now diminished to only 1/3 of its original size because thousands of acres of wetlands were filled and developed, as well as solid waste dumping. His work currently includes advocating for the permanent preservation of all of the remaining wetland acreage.
The Riverkeeper’s Four-pronged approach to conservation includes, first and foremost, advocating for every citizen’s right to Clean Water for drinking and recreation. He and his staff also spend a great deal of time educating the public at large about the importance of a clean, healthy ecosystem. Locally, he enforces environmental rules and regulations, and he’s gone to local, State, and federal court to advocate against polluters
and then monitor the resulting consent orders and other legal agreements for compliance back home.
Captain Bill and his staff don’t have an off season; throughout the year he participates in events that allow him and his staff to reach many more people with their ecological message, including the New York Boat Show in Manhattan and local street fairs including the Hackensack Street Festival that takes place in October.
To learn more about Captain Bill, the Hackensack River’s Eco-Programs, or how to volunteer, visit www.HackensackRiverkeeper.org or call 201.968.0808.