de Vries Honored with National Award

Yes, that’s me at a recent ceremony hosted at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts in Newark, where I was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Medallion for Public Service for my work advancing local environmental causes.

On my left is Sam Beard, co-founder of the Jefferson Awards and President and CEO of the American Institute for Public Service, and on my right is Ed Selover Executive Vice-president and General Counsel, Public Service Electric and Gas Company, who presented for the environmental category.

Most of our residents don’t realize that Andover Township’s geology has created a number of habitats within our town that are unique on the planet. Keeping those safe in the face of impending development and lack of understanding has been an uphill climb. My fellow environmental commissioners have offered unflagging support during my seven years in municipal government service and some township committee officials have had the foresight to understand the importance of evaluating zoning and future development in the context of the natural environment. This award honors the Township of Andover as much as it honors me.

Mayor Phoebus, Deputy Mayor Smith, and our liaison, Committeman Gilsenan, see the bigger picture: That if we are to retain the flavor of the town that brought our residents here in the first place, there must be balance.

During my tenure, the Environmental Commission instituted a Dark Skies Initiative, developed a stream-monitoring project, developed a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to produce a Sensitive Areas Map, and with the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program to create township-specific Landscape Project maps and inventories. I enthusiastically advocated for Andover’s Open Space Tax, which was approved by a 62% majority in 2006.

I have written successful grant applications that, together, total nearly $50,000. These funds enabled the township to hire professional consultants to generate a Conservation Easement Inventory, a Natural Resource Inventory, a Build Out Capacity Analysis, an Open Space Plan, and a Hydrogeology Report.

This year alone, I reached out to partner with the Sussex County Master Gardeners and Kittatinny Park to develop a plant rescue program; with the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morris Plains and the Sussex County Planning Department to promote marsh meadow detention basins as a stormwater management solution; and with The US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a pilot program that establishes detention basins as habitat restoration projects.

One of only 25 honorees chosen from among 200 New Jersey candidates, I was nominated by Diane Gillespie, who has served with me on the Environmental Commission since 2005. I can’t say how many times I’ve called her and said, “Quick Robin, to the Batmobile,” so that we could run out and investigate potential environmental violations called in by residents.

The Jefferson Awards were founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, Jr., and Sam Beard to create “a Nobel Prize for public and community service.” Recipients are described as “Unsung Heroes -- ordinary people who do extraordinary things.” The awards are named for President Thomas Jefferson, who believed that community service is the cornerstone of American society.

Environmental advocates get hit with a lot of flack over the years. It feels really great for a change to get some positive recognition. Thanks Jefferson Awards. And thanks, Diane.

To learn more about the Jefferson Awards, visit http://www.jeffersonawards.org

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