With the stepping down of 10-year president Barry Lamb, Friends of the Bay has three new leaders to take the helm for 2020. The Oyster Bay-based environmental advocacy organization announced on Jan. 9 that Bill Bleyer is taking over as the new board president, Mitch Kramer as vice president and Eric Swenson as secretary.
“We have a president, a vice president and a secretary who bring a lot of energy and a lot of knowledge to the positions,” said Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the Bay. “I’m very excited and energized to work on projects to fulfill our mission.”
Bill Bleyer, 67, of Bayville, has been a journalist for 46 years. He retired in 2014 from Newsday after 33 years. He has a distinct passion for Long Island, having written four books on its history and travels to libraries and historical organizations throughout the region to give lectures. His mother bought a summer home in Bayville when he was growing up, and he instantly fell in love with the North Shore’s waters.
Bleyer joined the Friends of the Bay’s board in November 2018 and became secretary in early 2019. He had previously helped create the Coalition Against an UnSound Crossing, an organization that successfully opposed the state’s proposed Long Island Sound tunnel project.
“It’s a great honor to be elected as the fourth president in the long history of Friends of the Bay,” Bleyer said. “It’s a culmination of a deep interest in the environment that begin on Earth Day in 1970 and intensified during the fight to stop the Bayville-Rye Bridge, which led to my four-decade career in journalism. I hope to build on the hard work of my predecessors and make Friends of the Bay more active and more visible with new initiatives to protect the watershed.”
Bleyer said he wants to make Friends of the Bay more visible and influential within the North Shore community. One of the first things he hopes to do is begin a wetlands restoration project, which will be started in Bayville east of the drawbridge.
Friends of the Bay has also recently upgraded its water transportation, Bleyer said. He said the organization traded up from a Carolina Skiff to a 24-foot Parker cuddy cabin cruiser, which is “more of an all-weather boat.” This will enable it to perform water quality tests for more months of the year, he said.
Having grown up in Oyster Bay and now living in East Norwich, Mitch Kramer, 55, is constantly on the water. Captain Kramer is the owner of North Shore Towing & Diving, Inc. and TowBoatU.S. North Shore, providing marine services to the boating community for over 30 years. His wealth of experience with the North Shore’s waters, he said, has emboldened his passion for the area.
“I’ve been very fortunate to grow up on the water and make my living on the water,” Kramer said, “so the health of the harbor is paramount to me.”
“He is really a wonderful member and a great asset to Friends of the Bay,” Johnson said, “because, besides his maritime knowledge, he’s always on the water. He’s had eyes on the water we’ve never had before.”
Kramer said he is excited to get started on his work with the organization. One of the first things he hopes to accomplish is to work with Bleyer on replenishing shoreline grasses in an effort to preserve the North Shore’s wetlands. He’s looking forward, he said, to conducting thorough water quality testing, something which he knows is important, given his boating experience.
“There’s a lot of stuff in the works right now and it seems like everything is moving forward, which I’m delighted about,” Kramer said.
Although he has only been on the Friends of the Bay board for a little over a month, Eric Swenson, 65, has a wealth of experience in the field of water conservation. The Mill Neck resident serves as the executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee and represents Mill Neck on the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee. He is also the treasurer of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District and a member of the Long Island Sound Study Citizens Advisory Committee. Swenson is a former superintendent of environmental control for the Town of Oyster Bay.
“I think our waterways are really related to quality of life around here,” Swenson said of his passion for the North Shore’s waters. “They provide so many opportunities and the cleaner they are the more we can enjoy them and have a better quality of life.”
As secretary, Swenson said he hopes to streamline everything the board does by making it easier for members to communicate online and access shared documents via a Google Drive cloud. He is also working to tighten up the board’s voting procedures, as well as to update by-laws for the betterment of the organization.
Much like his fellow new inductees, Swenson said Friends of the Bay has an excellent, engaged board that brings a great deal of knowledge to the table. Its members, he said, share a common passion for the North Shore’s conservation, something that will lead to the continued protection and future enhancement of its waterways.