Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Matanzas Riverkeeper Has Been in These Waters before; Neil Armingeon Was Advocate for St. Johns River

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Matanzas Riverkeeper Has Been in These Waters before; Neil Armingeon Was Advocate for St. Johns River

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Guinta

CRESCENT BEACH | Grinning with excitement, Neil Armingeon announced Wednesday that he's been named the first full-time advocate for the Matanzas River.

People are worried about the condition of the river, especially any proposal to sell public lands in the watershed.

"They're also concerned with the river's water quality, over-development and the condition of the Matanzas Inlet," he said. "The Matanzas is one of the few natural inlets left on the coast of Florida."

Roughly 100 friends, supporters and environmentalists attended the news conference at the popular fish camp on the west end of Cubbedge Road, just south of the Florida 206 bridge.

As Armingeon spoke, a dolphin broke the water's surface behind him.

A Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, he graduated with a degree in botany from North Carolina State University, then earned a master's degree in coastal ecology from Duke University. He worked as a hydrologist for the U.S. Geologic Survey for 10 years, documenting the decline of the water resources of the Southeast.

He learned that, "basically, there's no more ground water. We're at the limit of sustainable use."

But measuring the decline of water resources didn't feel like he was doing enough, he said. He wanted to do more. He accepted a job as the St. Johns Riverkeeper in 2003. He won many accolades as being one of the most active and effective. He resigned in 2012.

"We lost a lot of battles. It wore me down," he said. One big disappointment was a ruling that allows a Seminole utility to take 50 million gallons per day from the upper St. Johns for drinking water.

That was the wrong message to send to cities up and down the length of the river, he said.

But he felt encouraged when he heard that the Friends of the Matanzas sought a riverkeeper. The steering committee of local businessmen Pat and Bill Hamilton and Mike Greenberg, a member of the Whitney Lab's board of trustees, chose him.

Greenberg noted that nearby there was Florida A1A, a scenic highway, Whitney Lab and the oldest fort. …

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