OSSINING, N.Y. Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, fights battles to keep the Hudson River clean and accessible, and he enjoys the river too, often wading into the waters for a cool swim.
"It's what I grew up with," said Gallay, referring to his access to swimming, fishing and boating. Gallay grew up in Thornwood, near the Kensico Reservoir, and would often bike through the woods to go fishing in the Saw Mill River.
As president of the Ossining-based Riverkeeper environmental protection group for one year, Gallay has worked to make the organization more accessible and connected to local communities. He has also taken on battles to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, to keep a dock in Poughkeepsie open to the public, and to get General Electric to clean up polychlorinated biphenyl pollution, which is known to cause cancer and other illnesses.
"I just want to play a role in making sure that laws are enforced and that corners are not cut just to save a buck," said Gallay, who has 25 years of experience in environmental activism and a law degree from Columbia Law School.
The Riverkeeper organization has joined forces with the State of New York and the Clearwater environmental organization to challenge Indian's Point license to use water from the Hudson River as part of their nuclear reactor cooling system. Without the state water permit, it will be impossible for the two nuclear reactors -- Indian Point 2 and 3 -- to qualify for federal relicensing.
"Every day Indian Point strip mines 2.5 billion gallons of water from the Hudson River and discharges it back into the river hotter and completely devoid of life," Gallay said. "It kills a billion fish and other river creatures every year."
Officials at Indian Point dispute the plants' impact on fish and river creatures.
The two reactors at Indian Point have been active for 36 and 38 years respectively, but each was originally meant to be active for only 40 years, Gallay said. The nuclear plant authorities want to extend each reactor's life for another 20 years. Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, is seeking to relicense its plants, whose operating permits expire in 2013 and 2015.
"I think the chances of Indian Point getting its license again are zero," Gallay said. "Too many people understand that this plant is an accident waiting to happen."
About two months ago, Riverkeeper also took on a fight to try to keep Poughkeepsie's only public dock from being privatized.
The issue has riled up residents so much that the local Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper gets close to 90 comments in response to articles about the dock.
"This is a fight we needed to take on because public access to the river is key to our communities wanting to protect the river," Gallay said.
When not fighting to keep the Hudson River clean, Gallay, who lives in Ossining, swims in the river, but he knows not to go in the river immediately after a rain storm.
"We sample the Hudson every month for bacteria and post the information on our website," Gallay said.
Rain water brings bacteria into the Hudson which can cause stomach illness and infections to cuts, Gallay explained. Though Ossining fails its Hudson River water bacterial-level tests only 10 percent of the time, for safety reasons its better to wait until a few days after rain before swimming in the river.
"Our goal is for people to know when it's safe to swim," Gallay said.
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