ABOUT THE WATERKEEPER
ANDRE "ANDY" MELE
ON A MISSION TO CHANGE THE WORLD
The term “Waterkeeper” is both a brand and a job title. The new Waterkeeper for the 2,894 square miles of the adjoining watersheds and surface waters is Andy Mele, formerly Waterkeeper and Executive Director for Suncoast Waterkeeper before moving to Punta Gorda.
“The jurisdiction includes large portions of the Bone Valley,” says Mele, “including mining and processing facilities that discharge hundreds of thousands of pounds of EPA-listed toxic and hazardous wastes every year, despite the legislative intent of the Clean Water Act.
The intent of the Act was unequivocal: America’s rivers were no longer to be treated as industrial sewers.”
IN HIS OWN WORDS
Because I am what I am made of, I will describe some of my ancestors, and the standards I am driven to meet.
I was born and mostly raised in Woodstock, NY. I lived in Bohemian poverty in a sapling shack built as a summer artist’s studio on the Maverick Road, with a wood stove and no running water.
The name Mele is Italian, and that side of my family comes from the Abruzzi, on the middle east coast of the boot – so poor that the Romans never bothered to conquer it.
My father was a viola prodigy, and was first viola of the Rochester Philharmonic by the age of 20. He played for Arturo Toscanini on the NBC Symphony of the Air. My mother’s side is American blueblood, from a family of people who got famous in their day for doing things.
My mother and father were published novelists and short story writers. My mother was the youngest woman to have a night beat for the Times in Manhattan, and soon thereafter was the first woman journalist in the ruins of Berlin, as the ashes of World War Two were still cooling.
Her second book, Prettybelle (Dial Press), was optioned for Broadway and made into a musical with book by Bob Merrill, music by Jule Styne, and starring Angela Lansbury. Almost everyone on my mother’s side, going back to the Civil War, has written. This fact has had a profound effect on my commitment to writing.
My father’s real loves were writing and dry-fly trout fishing, with one of his classic Tonkin cane bamboo rods. He became an accidental environmentalist by way of his love for the streams where he fished. Appalled at New York City’s withdrawals of impounded Catskill Mountain waters during the hot, dry summers of upstate New York, he formed a group called Catskill Waters, that after seven years forced the city to release minimal amounts of water all summer, preserving the streams, their fish, and the tourists who were the backbone of the region’s economies.
Mele's family, Frank Mele and Jean Martin, Mele's Mother and Father, and
"Uncle" Jimmy Lockwood.
My first real job was grooming the clay tennis court at Byrdcliffe. I was 14. Next year I worked off the books building swimming pools with pick and shovel. The summer I was sixteen, I started working at a local marina, quit, and became an unpaid apprentice at the Woodstock Playhouse, a summer stock theater with a wonderful sense of community and some really nice girls. I parked cars for $20 a week. I worked for 75 hours straight one strike night because the sets didn’t fit, and had to be rebuilt.
Then it was off to The University of New Mexico to become immediately disillusioned with my career choice (archaeology), and drift into academic oblivion, which in 1968 meant a rapid enlistment in the Navy, where lots of family members had enjoyed long, productive careers. Not me.
After an early (and honorable) discharge, on grounds of conscientious objection, following two tours aboard a DEG in the Tonkin Gulf, I spent a year writing for a local newspaper, wrote a memoir of the Navy experience, built and worked in a sawmill, spent a few years picking up the basics of woodworking, then built and restored wooden boats for 17 or so years.
Some of the projects were really cool, some pure agony. It’s hard to make progress against the headwinds of a trade so spectacularly labor-intensive and variable as wooden boats. No two the same! Ever. And no shortcuts. Ever.
During that time I married, adopted my wife’s two kids, Tina and Justin, and together we had another daughter, Paloma.
Look at me I can change the world.
On my watch, General Electric was finally backed into a corner...
After setting an unacknowledged world’s record for solar-powered boat voyages, I burned my bridges with the marine industry by writing Polluting For Pleasure, which W.W. Norton published in 1993. The premise, some 12 million registered pleasure boats in the U.S., powered by conventional two-stroke outboard motors, were emitting five or more Exxon Valdez oil spills-worth of unburned gasoline into America’s waterways every year.
Some folks read the book, started organizations, sued the EPA for a long-overdue marine engine rule, and today, most outboards are four-strokes, and 95-98% cleaner than the 2-strokes.
I graduated with honors from Bard College in 1994, then pursued a Master’s in Environmental Science, also from Bard, which I completed in 2002. My thesis was entitled Demand-Side Environmental Impact Assessment.
From 1995 through 2005 I worked for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, or just plain Clearwater, winding up as Executive Director for 5 ½ of those years. I helped bring the venerable environmental group, with its magnificent wooden replica of a Hudson River sloop, out of an economic and existential crisis and back to its place as a valued resource in New York and the nation.
On my watch, General Electric was finally backed into a corner and forced to sign a Consent Decree to clean the toxic PCBs out of the upper Hudson, after 25 years of resisting. We handed Indian Point (nuclear powerplant) its first courtroom defeat in decades, and helped launch the Hudson River Park, on Manhattan’s west side. twenty years.
I loved that work. It informs the scientific and policy elements of Book of Storms. But I grew frustrated with Board politics and resigned to write full-time.
My first novel, Silver Stars, was written from 2005 – 2010, in many, many drafts. Book of Storms was started in late 2011, earned the interest of an agent, finally, and is undergoing a thorough rewrite.
I divide my time between my home in Woodstock, New York and Sarasota, Florida, where I have been since researching Book of Storms. I’ve been coming to Sarasota for decades, since my mother and first stepfather, artist Fletcher Martin, stayed here to get medical attention. My mother and second stepfather, Jerry Wexler, the renowned music producer, lived here for more than twenty years.
The Piney Point Disaster
Piney Point is a small mountain of waste phosphogypsum called a “gypstack,” with earthwork berm-retained lakes on top for settling out the waste phosphogypsum, and recycling the acidic process fluids used in fertilizer manufacturing. The current spill is just the latest in a string of disasters and near-disasters associated with Florida’s phosphate fertilizer industry.