He joked that he had two young children at home and so would be showing a slideshow of his family to the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club on Tuesday — instead of giving a presentation on the Coosa River Basin Initiative, as they expected.
In reality, CRBI’s Executive Director and Riverkeeper Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman did talk about the other “babies” in his life — the various water-related projects and environmental monitoring protections of the 26-year-old nonprofit organization.
Demonbreun-Chapman told the approximately 40 Rotarians that CRBI has accepted more responsibility of late — just like a college graduate getting out on its own.
“We have entered into a phase in the last couple of years of growing and maturing as an organization,” the Berry College graduate said. “We have a tremendous amount of talent and energy that has come on board.”
Aside from briefly touching on the weekly bacterial monitoring results published in the Rome News-Tribune on Saturdays, Demonbreun-Chapman said he wanted to provide information that perhaps would be new to the group.
This includes legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last year protecting residents within the Conasauga Shale Field in Northwest Georgia and parts of Alabama and Tennessee from being caught off guard by fracking activities that might affect their drinking water.
Although natural gas extraction in the field has not yet begun, Demonbreun-Chapman said it’s probably only a matter of time since it appears the field contains the valuable energy source that is starting to attract companies to the area.
“We did this not by going for a sensational ban and saying fracking is the most evil practice in the world. We’re never going to win that argument,” he said. “But the message that resonated both with late representative John Meadows and his constituents was that every person that has a private well should have the right to have that groundwater protected. If a company can frack safely, they have that. But if they spill, if they contaminate somebody else’s water, there should be legal mechanisms within Georgia’s code that allow people to become whole if their property is damaged as a result.”
A project the CRBI provided significant support for and continues to generate awareness about is a documentary film about Rome’s former GE Medium Transformer Plant called “To Kingdom Come,” co-produced by Berry College Associate Professor Brian Campbell in 2018.
The film, which centers on the relationship between the Rome community and the GE plant, is told through the different experiences and perspectives of GE employees, local riverkeepers and scientific experts. It was the winner of the Audience Award at the 2018 Rome International Film Festival.
“The documentary does not attempt to demonize anyone,” Demonbreun-Chapman said, adding 500 DVDs of the film have now been produced for educational purposes. “We are now working with him and student workers to build a curriculum around it to not only talk about this film, but the issue of ‘forever chemicals’ like PCBs that remain in our waterways for a long time after we utilize them in manufacturing and to talk about how we view water. It’s going to be a great avenue for us to further get our foot in the door with classrooms across the region.”
Demonbreun-Chapman explained at the end of his presentation that PCBs remain in the sediment for 10,000 years and do, at times, get into the food chain, especially when that sediment is stirred up by floods or dredging operations. Bottom feeders such as catfish are continually monitored for this reason.
Another high priority for CRBI is the Solid Waste Trust Fund issue that would specifically designate the monies collected from such things as the $1 replacement tire fee into a fund that would be used to clean up illegal tire dumps. Currently, only a small percentage of the funds go toward such endeavors. The bulk of the money ends up back in the state’s general fund to be used at the discretion of lawmakers or other governing bodies.
Lawmakers such as Republican Rep. Jay Powell of Camilla have been working on a constitutional amendment allowing the General Assembly to permanently earmark the revenue from a targeted fee or fine.
“We’re hoping to get the amendment passed in the General Assembly next year so we could have a ballot measure for voters in November 2020,” Demonbreun-Chapman said.
Longtime Rotarian and CRBI Board Member Nina Chosen-Lovel said before the presentation that she invited her colleague to speak to the group because she, too, is passionate about water.
“Rome is so blessed with three beautiful rivers that are vital to all of life and for economic development,” the lifetime Rome resident said. “Sometimes we do things that are not always popular, but it’s important work for the good of the community.”