Bay watchers broaden reach as membership soars

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Citizens for a Healthy Bay monitors the environmental health of Commencement Bay through research on cleanup sites and on-the-water patrols. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

The increased attention – and raised eyebrows – about activities on Tacoma’s working waterfront has boosted the workload and profile in recent years for Citizens for a Healthy Bay (CHB), the nonprofit tasked with monitoring such matters.

Membership has grown from just 74 people in 2015 to 321 last year. A big engagement boom is expected this year now that CHB formed an environmental justice program to reach historically marginalized members of the community.

“The environmental community has been exclusionary, and it’s been to our detriment,” said CHB Executive Director Melissa Malott. “The environment touches all of us.”

The new environmental justice program that CHB started seeks to change that demographic trend by not only reaching out to new groups about environmental issues involving Tacoma’s waterways but broadening its own efforts by including environmental issues in Tacoma’s neighborhoods, which ultimately also affect the waters.

Kenny Coble and Emily Pinckney have joined Citizens for a Healthy Bay to anchor new environmental justice program. Photo courtesy of Citizens for a Healthy Bay

“We can no longer ignore the fact that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened with toxins and pollution, have less access to waterfronts and forests, and have fewer chances to meaningfully participate in decision-making on environmental issues,” Malott stated when announcing the program. “This is a problem across the country and here in Tacoma. Protecting the environment doesn’t stop at the edge of a certain neighborhood – we must be advancing a clean environment and healthy community for all.”

CHB’s environmental justice program will be led by two new hires. Kenny Coble joined CHB as the organization’s new Environmental Justice Program manager, and Emily Pinckney is its new community justice organizer.

“As someone who loves the work CHB does keeping the bay clean, advocating for environmental protections and bringing people together for education and partnership, I’m excited to help bring in even more people to the work the organization is doing,” said Coble. “I’ve had a lot of fun and found a lot of meaning using social media and community organizing to increase civic engagement in Tacoma, primarily making sure people of color have leadership and decision-making roles in this work.”

Coble, who was born in Tacoma and raised in Lakewood and Federal Way, studied communications at Multnomah University and is a freelance social media consultant. Pinckney was raised in Tacoma and studied marine biology at Humboldt State University as well as Duke University and interned at Fordham University and the City of Tacoma.

“Having had the opportunity to study marine biology at university, I believe education is vital to true environmental empowerment,” said Pinckney. “As a black female scientist, I am excited to apply a social justice lens to all of my work at Citizens for a Healthy Bay and the other environmental institutions we work with in Pierce County.”

CHB formed in 1990 to represent and engage people in the cleanup, restoration and protection of Commencement Bay, the surrounding waters and the local natural habitat at a time Tacoma was starting the environmental cleanup efforts of its Superfund sites that had been contaminated by decades of a lack of environmental policies. The group researches environmental issues, monitors the waterway for hazards and spills, testifies at public hearings and works with concerned citizens on how best to craft their own public testimony as well as works with governments, agencies and groups on stewardship efforts.

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