Bob Martini receives national environmental award
To see a river or lake sparkling clean and pure is satisfaction enough for Bob Martini, but the North America River Management Society saw fit to give this environmental advocate an award. Just recently, Bob received a plaque that states, “In recognition of your accomplishments promoting and protecting the water quality and free flowing nature of rivers in Wisconsin.”
“This award is great, but there are so many other people who have worked over the years to clean up our rivers and lakes in the state,” Bob said. “Many people continue to work hard to do that even today.”
Bob grew up in Wausaukee and his family moved to Rhinelander when he was in his early 20s.
“I knew as soon as I came into Rhinelander I wanted to live here,” said Bob. “I love this area.”
Bob became even more familiar with the Northwoods when his dad, Bill, became a warden and fire control officer for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Bob decided to follow in his footsteps.
He graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in zoology and industrial microbiology. In 1976 he got a job working with the DNR on a task force to clean up the Wisconsin River.
“This included 12,000 miles of watershed and 430 miles of river,” said Bob. “I’ve been on every part of the Wisconsin River over the years.”
The task of cleaning up the Wisconsin River seemed monumental back in those days, but Bob was up for the challenge. Some of the pollution sources that were studied and addressed included non-point pollution, paper mills and acid rain. In many instances, Bob was instrumental in getting regulations passed through governmental programs to reduce or eliminate pollution from companies or industries that were major contributors.
“One example is Aldicarb, an insecticide that was used by potato farmers to kill insects that prey on potato plants,” said Bob. “This stuff was leaking into the groundwater, including even drinking water. Through governmental regulation, we got the chemical eventually banned and proved to farmers they could make more money if they stopped using it, which proved to be true.”
Another one of Bob’s career highlights was when he got involved in licensing dams.
“On the Wisconsin River there are 26 hydro dams, 21 storage reservoirs, 64 municipalities and 15 paper mills, so that was a big job,” said Bob. “We worked to get better water quality, better recreational opportunities and a healthier environment for the river.”
Acid rain was also an issue.
“That involved convincing industries along the river to burn low sulfur coal,” said Bob. “We were above the curve on that one because once that regulation went into place, Wisconsin got into a fixed price 30-year program to purchase this type of coal. Then federal regulations went into place and the coal got more expensive, but we were already locked in. The state saved money and the river started to show improvement.”
Bob can recall a time when there was so much sludge from the paper mill near Hat Rapids dam that small animals could walk across it.
“Before regulation, there was 425,000 pounds of waste a day going into the river from all the paper mills along its shores,” he said. “Today that number is closer to 34,000 pounds.”
Today, Bob would like to be involved in drafting regulations that would protect the rivers and waters of Oneida County and admits the regulations that are currently in place are not adequate when it comes to shoreline development.
“There are only a couple of counties with more lakes than we have and yet we have the least restrictive ordinances as far as protecting our lakes and rivers,” said Bob. “People think more regulation is bad for the economy, but really it’s just the opposite. When lakes become polluted, the property value around those bodies of water goes down. With stricter water protection ordinances in place, property values are protected and that benefit trickles down to not only lakefront property owners but all taxpayers as well.”
Bob retired from the DNR in 2007 but he continues to work tirelessly in his quest to create regulation that protects lakes and rivers, especially in Oneida County. In some capacity, he is serving on the boards of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association, Trees for Tomorrow, Northwoods Land Trust and various lake associations. He serves as the vice president on the board of trustees at Nicolet College and is president of the foundation.
“While I’m honored to receive this award, there are lots of other hard-working people who deserve recognition too,” he said. “Keeping our lakes and rivers clean has always been a team effort.”