By John Burton
RED BANK – It’s not your parents’ American Littoral Society.
The venerable environmental organization, established in 1961 has in recent years looked to expand its reach and been working on various fronts, from grassroots organizing to lobbying legislators in Trenton and elsewhere to in some cases taking the battle to the courts.
“The American Littoral Society has had to step in,” in recent years in its efforts, said American Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham, given the fact of the “failure of government to provide that protection.” Dillingham joined other members of the society for an editorial meeting with The Two River Times on Aug. 6 to discuss the society’s future.
The late Dery Bennett, the society’s executive director for about 35 years who died in 2009 and is a legend among local environmentalists, hired Dillingham more than two decades ago. The American Littoral Society is active in projects along the eastern seaboard, offering a message of conservation and education. And advocacy, Dillingham stressed, making the public aware of the work being done and the work that continues to need to be done.
“It’s not the Littoral Society that people used to know. The Society has changed,” added Pim Van Hemmen, the society’s assistant director. “We spend a lot more on policy and effecting change of policy,” for the environment.
Much of the organization’s efforts since October 2012 have been addressing the damage that occurred with Super Storm Sandy, the damage it caused to the coastline and communities and efforts to repair the damage. “Some of the problems people are having dealing with the storm is from government incompetence,” Dillingham maintained. For the environmentalist, the issue has been longstanding policies that allowed for bad planning that eliminated the environment’s natural barriers and development in areas not suited for the projects.
“Let’s put people back on their feet,” he continued. “But not in a place where they’re going to get knocked down again.” The organization is working with the Spring Lake local officials on the 84-acre Wreck Pond restoration project to improve its water quality and curtail its flooding impact during severe storms.
The American Littoral Society has been long involved in Barnegat Bay and Delaware Bay conservation efforts and efforts to improve Jamaica Bay, New York, and preserve its disappearing salt marshes.
The answers have to be more comprehensive and long term, than simply thinking about building a wall. “You can build walls,” Dillingham noted, “but Mother Nature likes to come in about one inch above the wall.”
The group has been working with golf course/country club owners – long at odds with one another – to offer ways their grounds can be lush and attractive and still environmentally friendly, with the group offering a certification for the owners who work with the society.
The organization has been taking other steps to reach out to business interests to point out that it’s not an either/or situation when dealing with the economy and the environment, Dillingham pointed out.
A major undertaking has been to hold government accountable, he continued, in the court of law, bringing suit when necessary, as well as in the court of public opinion, keeping the public aware.
“They’re not insolvable problems. But what we often lack is the political will,” to achieve the goals, requiring this and other groups to hold elected and appointed officials’ feet to the fire to ensure action, Dillingham said.
But “These things don’t happen unless the word gets out,” Van Hemmen said. “We need to educate the community about smart ways,” to improve the environment.
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