Congaree Riverkeeper making progress

September 29, 2009


The Congaree Riverkeeper effort is ready to take off, with a 12-member board in place, nonprofit status in the works and a fund-raising campaign on the horizon.

When the Waterkeeper Alliance approved Alan Mehrzad's application as Congaree Riverkeeper in December, the USC graduate student from Virginia faced a daunting task. He lacked professional connections and experience in the area.

"I didn't know anything about anything," he said.

But he had the advantage of dealing with a resource loved by many people. The Congaree Riverkeeper organization will be a watchdog for about 90 miles of river - the Broad from Parr Reservoir to Columbia, the Saluda from Lake Murray to Columbia and the Congaree from Columbia through its confluence with the Wateree.

People with special interest or knowledge about those waterways came to Mehrzad and asked to be on the board. Others suggested people Mehrzad should recruit. And he ended up asking some others he met along the way.

"I tried to be strategic and deliberate about who I asked to be on the board," Mehrzad said.

The board is a cross-section of people who live or work on the rivers, lawyers who deal with or make water law, and professionals in engineering and finance. Attorney Mullen Taylor, who has expertise in water law, agreed to be chairman.

"We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us," said Taylor, who admired Mehrzad's initiative in filing the Riverkeeper application. "We have 90 miles on three rivers, and each of those rivers have different characteristics and different issues."

Mehrzad has filed the paperwork to earn nonprofit status. A master plan for the riverkeeper project and a fundraising plan are in the works. Other riverkeeper groups in the country rely on individual memberships, donations and grants.

Mehrzad has picked up about $5,000 in small donations (in addition to two boats and some water-monitoring equipment) without a formal campaign. He also has finished graduate school and started his real-world education on the politics and mechanics of river protection.

"I've learned so much since December," said Mehrzad, who also helped with major cleanup efforts on the Saluda River and Gills Creek. "We're learning our rivers so we can put together a wise plan."

In addition to Taylor, the board members include Ryan Nevius, chairman of the Richland County Appearance Commission; Sandy Rankin, manager of Adventure Carolina; George Durban, director of trust for First Citizen Bank and Trust; John Brandon of the engineering and planning firm GMK Associates; Tim Rogers, managing partner of the law firm Austin and Rogers; Chris Kueny, president of the Riverland Park Homeowners Association; Brian Taylor of the architectural firm LTC Associates; Gene Dinkins Jr. of the civil engineering firm Cox and Dinkins; Debbie Parker, legislative director for the Conservation Voters of South Carolina; Fred Hanna, a senior manager with the civil engineering firm B.P. Barber; and Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.
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