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September 5, 2000

Newsmaker Interview

The National Estuary Program (NEP) in Mobile went through drastic changes last Spring: the entire program was shut down for a few months, the grant administrator for the program changed from Faulkner State Community College to the University of South Alabama, and a new program director was appointed recently. David Yeager is the new program director of Mobile Bay NEP.

The following interview was conducted via email.

Harbinger: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Yeager: As Program Director for the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, I am committed to our goal of promoting the wise stewardship of the water quality and living resources of the Mobile Bay and Delta through the successful completion and implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that reflects input from all sectors of our community. I was attracted to this opportunity in part because of the strong focus on management and direction of this program by our local community and in part because of the natural beauty and quality of life in this part of the state. Although I traveled widely in my past career, I am an Alabama native and itís good to be home. Prior to accepting the position as Director of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, I served 29 years as a member of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a career that combined science and national service. I retired in June of this year as a Captain. My professional focus combined the disciplines of mapping and charting, oceanography, remote- sensing and meteorological and environmental data collection and analysis. I served on six agency ships and was Commanding Officer of three, including one of the nationís then largest oceanographic research vessels. Other assignments involved leading and directing major programs and offices.

Harbinger: Can you bring us up to date regarding the current status of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program?

Yeager: The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) is back in full swing with new Program Office staff and a full plate of actions and opportunities facing us. We owe a great deal of thanks to those volunteers from the MBNEP management conference who kept the program viable for several months during the absence of permanent staff members and who effected transfer of our grant administration to the University of South Alabama. We have been busy over the past 3 months. Our activities included: hiring a Scientific and Technical Coordinator, a Data Manager and Secretary, completing and gaining Policy Committee approval of a Year 5 Work Plan, submitting new grant applications to the EPA and the Gulf of Mexico Program (both were awarded this month), developing three new pre-proposals for environmental initiatives consistent with established Work Plans and in coordination with partners from Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), Alabama Department for Environmental Management (ADEM) and other organizations, accepting a proposal for services to assist in completion of the draft CCMP, making significant progress in closing out existing contracts and obtaining several major commitments for required state and local matching funds. I met personally with many members of the Management and Policy Committees and heard their perspectives regarding the challenges facing the Bay and the direction our program should take. I am optimistic because there seems to be so much common ground. The Program Office is working well with the various committees of the Management Conference and supporting them in achieving the goal of promoting and ensuring the wise stewardship of our water quality and living resources. The MBNEP has the potential to make a huge difference in the Bay and I think we are on the right path to realizing that potential.

Harbinger: What do you see are the greatest challenges you face as director of Mobile Bay NEP?

Yeager: I would prefer to discuss our three immediate priorities for action rather than placing the focus on the challenge. After all, as Henry Kaiser once said, "Trouble is only opportunity in work clothes." Our three opportunities then are: completion of a draft Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) by August 2001; establishing our credibility as a source of reliable information and as a champion for implementation of the CCMP; and regaining citizen and stakeholder participation and support in the process.

Much good work has resulted in a foundation upon which to build a draft CCMP. However, we need to review the numerous action items identified to reduce duplication and sharpen their focus. We need to consider them in terms of their "do-ability" (i.e. are they technically or financially realistic and/or feasible?). We need to focus our efforts on the action plans having the greatest probability of success and the greatest payoff in terms of improving water quality and maintaining balanced communities of indigenous living resources in the Bay and Delta.

Good decisions are usually based on sound, credible data. This is particularly important in arriving at sound public policy decisions. A future decision by the Governor to sign the CCMP will commit to a course of action that affects everyone who depends on the Bay for quality of life, recreation or livelihood, and those municipalities and industries surrounding it. Much data exist, but there are recognized gaps. We must ensure that sound, credible data on the status and trends of the water quality and living resources in the Bay continues to be collected. Our Year Four and Five Work Plans address some of these gaps and a draft long term monitoring plan to provide such data is under review.

Finally, the success of this program ultimately lies in the hands of the stakeholders. There is great diversity among the stakeholders in the Bay. Some prize it simply for its natural beauty and wildlife, others make their livelihood by harvesting its resources or using it to support sea-borne commerce, and still others for the recreational opportunities it provides. Some affect it directly or indirectly through other industrial and human activity. Each use has its supporters and constituencies, sometimes with overlapping interests but often competing. We must promote balance and sustainability in our quest to carry out the MBNEP mission. Agreement on a CCMP and its implementation will require the best efforts of all our citizens (individual and corporate). We are placing a priority on public outreach activities and on working effectively with all these groups to achieve our goals.

Harbinger: What do you see your role in generating interest and support for Mobile Bay NEP from the general public? How do you generate interest and support from the general public?

Yeager: As noted before, I believe generating public interest and support is critical to our success. This requires active and involved outreach activities to get the MBNEP message out to the public in traditional media methods as well as other avenues. These other avenues include bringing the diverse groups and constituencies together during development of the CCMP so that all may develop real ownership in the final product. Compromise is difficult, and agreement on all points is more rare still. However, the stakeholder and public participation process provides the opportunity for identification of common ground and overlapping interests. Public support proceeds from identification of common ground and development of ownership in the final product. Another avenue for developing support is to enlist active public participation in demonstration projects or "on the ground" activities. Although our funds are limited, we have the capability to support some Action Plan Demonstration Projects and "Mini-Grants" that provide more opportunity for public participation.

Harbinger: It seems that for programs such as Mobile NEP to work, there must be common ground for both industries and environmentalists. Can common ground be found? How do you see your role in creating that common ground?

Yeager: Common ground can indeed be found between industries and environmentalists. The NEP process recognizes that achieving environmental improvement is very much a community effort involving both individual and corporate citizens. Consider the following information from Environmental Technology and reprinted in a national news magazine: "backyard burning of trash, still a common practice in the countryside, from just one household dumps the same amount of dioxins, furans and other chlorine-containing pollutants into the air as the burning of trash by a state-of-the-art municipal waste incinerator serving tens of thousands of homes." Multiply the one household by a hundred, and you may approach the emission capability of some industrial activities. Even if we take issue with this quote as representing a local concern or alternative, I want to make two points. First, as the comic strip character said, "we have met the enemy and they are us"; we all contribute to pollution. Second, industrial activity does indeed have the capability to overwhelm the environment. and instances are easily cited but in many cases they also have provided methodologies and technologies to assist in reducing pollution. Good corporate citizens are taking major steps to reduce the size of the industrial footprint on the environmental landscape. As we are all part of the problem, we must all be part of the solution. All stakeholders must be at the table to develop useful plans. I see the role of the MBNEP as providing a forum, a table if you will, where this common ground can be developed and explored. The Management Conference of the MBNEP includes a diverse group of industrial, environmental, civic and federal, state and local government leaders who are working together toward a common goal: the wise stewardship of the water quality and living resources of the Bay and Delta. In fact, the identification and agreement on action plans and objectives already reached by the MBNEP is demonstrable evidence of the ability to find common ground.

Harbinger: In the past, the actions of some industries in Mobile have created distrusts and suspicions among environmentalists and the general public, because the actions of industries didnít match their claims to be good corporate citizens or good stewards of Mobileís natural resources. Do you foresee that the suspicion and distrust could somehow derail Mobile NEP?

Yeager: Suspicion and distrust are a part of human nature. Our job at the MBNEP is to provide credible information and an inclusive forum for developing and implementing a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan that reflects input from all sectors of our community to promote the wise stewardship of the water quality and living resources of the Bay and Delta. As to past issues, one of my favorite quotes from John F. Kennedy is applicable: "Our task is not to fix blame for the past but to fix the course for the future."


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