Jersey Shore Most Influential

Jersey Shore Most Influential 2024 — Beach / Asbury Park Press / September 25, 2023

By Jean Mikle

They are the people on the front lines — and often, behind the scenes — who work diligently to keep our beaches clean and accessible to all. They are the hardworking activists and advocates who are trying to make sure those who live at the Jersey Shore are protected from storms and floods, and that the fragile beach ecosystem will continue to enthrall visitors for years to come.

If you think there’s someone worthy who is not on these lists, email Executive Editor Phil Freedman at [email protected]. Please include a brief explanation of why you think they are deserving and contact information.

Cindy Zipf: Executive director, Clean Ocean Action

Zipf’s dream is that Clean Ocean Action, which she has helmed since 1984, will no longer be needed. But with plastics pollution and now offshore wind power on the table, it seems likely that Zipf will continue to take center stage in her ocean advocacy for years to come.

Zipf and her group have scored huge victories over the years, particularly when it comes to ocean dumping. Younger residents of the Jersey Shore may not remember the 1980s, when medical waste wash-ups, dying fish and sewage pollution led to dozens of beach closures. It took 15 years of convincing lawmakers and regular protests for the eight dump sites off New Jersey and New York to be, finally, shut down.

New challenges have emerged, including repeated threats of offshore drilling, offshore wind exploration, dumping of dredge spoils and the increasing threat of plastic pollution. Rumson native Zipf has remained the ocean’s strongest champion, helping to build coalitions that include politicians, environmentalists, fishermen, surfers and local residents who all seek to protect the source of life that is the sea.

Jody Stewart and Amanda Devecka-Rinear: New Jersey Organizing Project/New Jersey Resource Project

Founder Devecka-Rinear and community organizer Stewart have made these Stafford-based organizations advocates for disaster survivors struggling to deal with the aftermath of storms and rising seas, pushing for a more resilient coastline and faster — and more equitable — disaster response. During the pandemic, lobbying by Stewart helped pass bills to help both tenants and landlords.

Tim Dillingham: Executive director, American Littoral Society

Dillingham has led the American Littoral Society since 2003, working to restore Barnegat and Jamaica bays, as well as promoting resiliency projects such as the living shoreline planned to reduce flooding in Seaside Park and other projects intended to assist marine life and maintain the biodiversity of the Jersey Shore.

Stewart Farrell: Founder and former director, Coastal Research Center, Stockton University

Farrell may have retired late last year, but he remains a legend in coastal management, having pioneered the annual beach surveys that have been used for beach replenishment projects and to help document storm damage and sea level rise. Expect him to still be consulted regularly as oceanfront and bayfront areas continue to confront climate change impacts.

Willie DeCamp Jr. and Britta Forsberg: Executive directors, Save Barnegat Bay

No two people are more familiar in Shore environmental circles than DeCamp (the former executive director) and Forsberg, who have worked tirelessly to make people aware of how development has affected water quality in the 42-mile-long “inland sea” that is Barnegat Bay. They’re poised to take the lead in any action against the state and BASF to challenge a controversial settlement between the chemical company and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that would preserve 1,000 acres of the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. Superfund site in Toms River.

Tom Fote: Legislative chairman, Jersey Coast Anglers Association

Toms River resident Fote is, first and foremost, an avid sport fisherman who’s been a powerful voice representing recreational fishermen for decades, in New Jersey and the East Coast. Fote has worked tirelessly to make sure those who fish for fun and sport have a seat at the table when regulations are made.

Christine Girtain: Toms River High School North science teacher, former New Jersey Teacher of the Year

A science teacher at North who also runs the three-year Authentic Science Research program for students at North and High School South, Girtain is a strong advocate for STEM learning for kids, as well as an environmental supporter who hopes her students will be involved in documenting the damage polluters like the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. did to the Toms River watershed.

Grace Hanlon: Executive director, Jersey Shore Partnership

No one is a stronger advocate for beach replenishment and coastal restoration than Hanlon, a former director of tourism for the state who realizes the importance of the Shore’s beaches to the state’s more than $40 billion tourism industry.

George Kasimos: Founder, Stop FEMA Now

No one is a bigger expert on flood insurance than Kasimos, a Toms River real estate agent who turned his anger about low payouts after Superstorm Sandy into an organization with chapters in several flood-prone states. Almost a dozen years later, he’s still lobbying alongside New Jersey’s congressional delegation for a fairer flood insurance system that stresses funding for mitigation before storms strike.

Jessica Krill: Founder, Beach Days for All

A Beachwood mom of two kids with special needs, Krill has become a powerful advocate for beach access for people with disabilities. She founded Beach Days For All, a nonprofit that’s worked with towns — including Seaside Park, Point Pleasant Beach, Lavallette and Neptune — to install mats, beach wheelchairs and surf chairs to help everyone enjoy a day on the sand.

Tony MacDonald: Director of the Urban Coast Institute, Monmouth University

Under MacDonald’s leadership, the institute has become a center for science and research that looks at how humans interact with the fragile coastal environment. Initiatives include working with local governments to help them better withstand the impacts of storms and climate change.

Brooke Salvano: Executive director, Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum

Keeping New Jersey’s maritime heritage alive is the goal of Brooke Salvano, who helms the seaport and baymen’s museum, a hidden gem along the southern New Jersey shore. Salvano led the museum’s recovery from damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and is helping more and more visitors get out on the water through a floating classroom/ferry service that has already served thousands.

Doug Quinn and Heather Shapter: Executive director and lead policy consultant, American Policyholder Association

This Toms River power couple took the difficult lessons they learned from Superstorm Sandy and formed a group that investigates fraud in the property insurance industry, and works to promote best practices to help protect policyholders in every state. That’s not all: these two are usually among the first to have boots on the ground after disasters, bringing supplies into devastated areas from Houston to Florida to Puerto Rico.

Jeff Tittel: Former director, New Jersey Sierra Club

Tittel, now retired, remains a vital and politically savvy expert on the Jersey Shore’s fragile environment. An early critic of the controversial settlement between BASF and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has been panned by environmental groups and local leaders, Tittel seems likely to stay involved in efforts to protect the Shore area and hold polluters accountable.

Jeff Vasser: Executive director, New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism

The long-time director of Atlantic City’s Convention & Visitors Authority, Vasser took over as the state’s tourism director five years ago and helped shepherd New Jersey’s $45 billion tourism industry through the depths of the pandemic.

Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz and Administrator Christopher Vaz

This father-son team is working alongside the Borough Council to change the image of Seaside Heights from hard-partying to family-friendly, using zoning changes and redevelopment designations to help encourage new construction in the small oceanfront town. They’ve also led efforts to the borough’s historic 1910 Dentzel/Looff carousel, slated to reopen for riders later this year.

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