The Ogeechee Riverkeeper is stepping down from her post after six years advocating for clean water in and around the watersheds of the Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers.
Emily Markesteyn Kurilla, a Savannah native, navigated the organization through its response to the 2011 fish kill on the Ogeechee including a Clean Water Act lawsuit settlement with King America Finishing (now Milliken), which produced a stricter discharge permit, more frequent and transparent water testing protocol, and a $2.5 million settlement.
About $1.3 million of that settlement funded an endowment to continue efforts to research and protect the black water river; another $350,000 is funding third party projects; and the remainder, about $850,000, went to attorney fees.
Kurilla also collaborated with the Georgia Water Coalition and state Rep. Jon Burns, R-Effingham, to introduce and pass Georgia House Bill 549 to address pollution spills in state waterways. Along with other riverkeepers and coastal advocacy groups, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper under her helm successfully advocated for the denial of energy transportation giant Kinder Morgan to use eminent domain to construct the Palmetto Pipeline to carry gasoline across coastal counties.
Kurilla subsequently collaborated on House Bill 413 to fine tune the rules and regulations regarding petroleum pipeline construction.
She’ll step down as the executive director and riverkeeper effective May 31. She will remain in Savannah with her family and work for Hasley Recreation Inc. The organization has not named a replacement.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity and my time spent serving as executive director and Riverkeeper with this amazing organization,” Kurilla said. “While I will miss being intimately involved with Ogeechee Riverkeeper, I am excited to see new energy lead the organization effectively in the future.”
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper began in its current form in 2004 with the merger of the Canoochee Riverkeeper and the Friends of the Ogeechee group. Two Ogeechee riverkeepers preceded Kurilla: Chandra Brown and Dianna Wedincamp.