Dec. 13, 2015 Meeting Summary

Below is a summary of HarborLAB volunteers’ year review meeting. Full notes prepared by Thomas Dieter in consultation with attendees are available to volunteers, sponsors, and community partners.

HarborLAB successfully expanded its estuary education programs, including special canoe and kayak tours; open paddle events; classroom activities and class field trips; cleanups; planting; and water quality sampling. Notable new achievements include: completed land clearing for the GreenLaunch on the Newtown Creek; significant habitat restoration work at the GreenLaunch (planted dozens of native bushes and trees, native flowers, and built up tons of soil through composting); construction of three docks (one for the CUNY LaGuardia Community College environmental science program); trained public school teachers in seedball making through class visits and a National Wildlife Federation session; obtained permission to commence the Neversink Reservoir program in 2016.

HarborLAB’s current board includes Chair Scott Sternbach (Director, Photography Program at CUNY LaGuardia Community College), Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, PhD (Director, Environmental Science program at CUNY LaGuardia Community College); Joel Kupferman, Esq. (Founder, Director of New York Environmental Law & Justice Project), Lisa Belfast (Manager of Afterschool and Camp Programs, Hour Children), and Erik Baard (journalist and Founder, Executive Director of HarborLAB). We support adding designated volunteer and student seats and inviting carefully screened rainmakers to join.

HarborLAB is strengthened by having a great proportion of leading volunteers who are women, people of color, LGBTQIA, and diverse in their belief systems and economic levels.  Those who we serve are even more diverse. Danushi Fernando, a Fairleigh Dickinson University administrator who founded her campus’ Diversity Initiative, will help us systematize and measure progress. We’ll work to attract public participants as new volunteers and to cultivate evermore diverse volunteers as future HarborLAB leaders. To further those ends we’ll produce new literature and increase our personal outreach efforts in NYCHA, CUNY, and other diverse communities even beyond our substantial commitment to date. One mechanism for achieving this will be an effort to provide free winter or early spring pool training for paddling safety skills, coordinated and conducted by HarborLAB Operations Chief Eun Jung Lee.

HarborLAB will speed efforts to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and is already a New York State nonprofit. Tushara Saint Vitus, Esq., will lead that effort with input from volunteers and board members and final approval by the board and board counsel, Joel Kupferman, Esq.

Following the instruction of our current 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, Earth Day Initiative, we’ve spent down our funds almost entirely by the close of the year. We’ve had excellent retention of sponsors and donors and with our expanded volunteer base we’ll grow that support in 2016.

HarborLAB is largely done growing its two kayak and canoe fleets, which now total more than 40 boats. We’ll have very limited private boat storage by volunteer contract but no paid storage. For proven volunteers wishing to advance their skills we’ll purchase a small number of appealing decked kayaks for their use as trip leaders and off-hours enjoyment. Volunteers were concerned that paid private storage would dilute HarborLAB’s mission and egalitarian character.

HarborLAB will begin building its waterfront infrastructure under the leadership of Facilities Manager Patricia Menje Erickson, in harmony with our habitat restoration. To come: a laboratory for students and researchers focused on the Newtown Creek EPA Superfund; solar power generation; a “field station” deck with educational signage for younger students; boat storage with a living structure above; living shade structure; rainwater harvesting and brackish water distillation; composting toilet and outdoor shower and sink; rolling compost bins; and fruit tree planters.

HarborLAB must address lawlessness and environmental degradation in our isolated waterfront district by installing security cameras (directed by Scott Wolpow and Manny Steier); working further with the NYC Sheriff, NYPD, and environmental agencies to raise sunken sailboats and prevent the hording and scuttling of dubious sailboats and sailboats spilling sewage; working with DSNY, NYC Parks, and NYCDEP to create a street end bioswale park at the Vernon Boulevard bulkhead; and securing the property with fence and gate repairs.