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Chuck Frederickson works as the riverkeeper for the James River Association, a nonprofit group.
By RUSTY DENNEN
At least once a week during the winter months, Chuck Frederickson puts his small boat in the James River near Richmond.
He's not fishing or admiring the scenery, although it can be beautiful this time of year.
Frederickson has one of the nation's more unusual job titles: riverkeeper. He works, full time, for the James River Association, a nonprofit conservation group.
"I am the outside guy, and I spend a lot of time in and on the water, looking for problems," says Frederickson, 57, a retired civil servant.
He's on the prowl for anything that might harm the James--pollution, erosion, water-quality issues. He does water monitoring, talks with homeowners, builders and developers to help gauge the health of the river.
If Fredericksburg's City Council approves a plan to protect nearly 5,000 acres along the Rappahannock River, it may join one of just over a hundred places around the country with paid riverkeepers.
Like all Virginia rivers, the James--running almost 350 miles from its headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay--has its share of problems. Erosion from building sites and fertilizer from farm fields and suburban lawns are contributing to habitat loss along its shores, and harmful algae growth downstream that robs marine life of oxygen.
Frederickson has been riverkeeper for 21/2 years; the program was started by the association in 2001.
"I guess you could say I'm kind of a watchdog for the river," he said. "I monitor conditions, identify problems and work to make sure there are solutions."
He works with industry, state and federal regulatory agencies. "So I kind of get involved in a lot of things. It's the best of both worlds because I'm not a member of the regulated community" such as builders and developers, "and not a regulator, so my main goal is the health of the river."
Frederickson's territory is the entire river, "and we try to address issues in all areas," he said.
But one person can do only so much. His main focus is the river and its tributaries within about 50 miles of Richmond. His office is in Prince George Courthouse. He keeps his boat at Jordan Point in Hopewell.
There are 143 waterkeeper organizations nationwide on rivers large and small, according to the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance. Most of the riverkeepers work for nonprofit entities, says spokesman Eddie Scher.
"Basically their job is like a neighborhood watch program. The person will have a boat and spend a certain amount of time patrolling the waterway. He'll know manufacturers or other industries that have pollution permits, and what the limits are," Scher said.
"We can go in and confront a polluter--something a public entity can't do. And we do a lot of education, with cleanups, community outreach, and working with regulators."
The first waterkeeper began working on New York's Hudson River in 1966; the Waterkeeper Alliance was formed in 1999. Depending upon the river and the tasks performed, riverkeepers can earn from a few thousand dollars a year working part time, to upwards of $75,000.
Scher said it's unusual for one to be working for a city.
In Fredericksburg's case, the money could come through the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund and the Army Corps of Engineers.
According to Scher, riverkeepers are often the first to uncover a systemic problem in a waterway. And rooting out a problem early, means something can be done sooner.
Frederickson said that was the case last December with a project in Hopewell, a community on the Appomattox River, a tributary of the James south of Richmond.
"They were building a new nursing home right on the river. I got a call from a citizen about erosion. There was heavy rain and you could just see the sediment washing into the river," he said.
Frederickson stopped by the construction site and talked to the foreman, who corrected the problem by reinforcing silt fences.
"They got everything fixed up nicely. The city, private industry and citizens got involved and came up with a fairly good solution."
Sometimes it's not that easy or amicable. The James River Association, for example, went to court over a trash-barging plan on the James, Frederickson said.
"Court is one of the tools we keep in the tool bag. But we try to resolve problems before it gets to that point."
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