It was billed as a party and fundraiser in support of the Buckeye Brook Coalition. It was all of that, but foremost, an occasion to remember and pay tribute to Steve Insana.
“Steve Insana was the first voice of Buckeye Brook,” coalition president Paul Earnshaw said Sunday afternoon, as he looked over Mill Cove, Conimicut Point and the glistening waters of Narragansett Bay. His appeal was made to the more than 90 people, some seated at tables and others looking over environmental displays on the expansive lawn of the Shuster’s property in Riverview.
“We need to speak with many voices…we need your help, come forward,” he said.
It was Insana, who died suddenly on Aug. 30 at the age of 46, who commanded the attention that afternoon.
Insana, who grew up in the area, intimately knew the brook, named after the alewives and herring, or buckeyes that make their spring spawning runs up the stream that’s fed by Warwick Pond and Spring Green Pond.
Michael Sullivan, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said he wasn’t on the job at the DEM for 15 minutes before Insana showed up.
Sullivan’s hyperbole was cause for a few laughs, but the image of Insana as a passionate advocate for the brook was right on target. Sullivan observed that Insana had a way of “inviting you to help” the cause.
“DEM will miss that energy,” Sullivan said. He appealed to the gathering, saying the agency needs their help.
“You are the eyes, the hands and you have the knowledge to help us,” he said.
“The good work gets done when you’re engaged,” he added.
Sullivan touched briefly on an issue that Insana brought to the forefront several winters ago. He brought news crews to the banks of the stream to show them a sweet smelling orange scum coating the banks and underbrush. It was de-icing fluid, or glycol, used at Green Airport.
Insana didn’t get to see DEM issue the Rhode Island Airport Corporation a water discharge permit during his lifetime. Sullivan, however, said there is a plan.
“Within five years there’s going to be a much healthier stream. I think I can promise you progress,” he said.
In recognition of Insana’s work, Sullivan named him the recipient of his 2009 Community Service award. The presentation was made to Insana’s brother, Dan, and cousin Rayna Insana Santoro.
Earnshaw said funds raised at the event would help the coalition develop educational material. He also spoke of building on Insana’s legacy and pulling other groups into the effort. That process was underway Sunday. In attendance were representatives from the Mill Cove Conservancy, the Conimicut Village Association and the Apponaug Improvement Association.
Also present were Mayor Scott Avedisian, Councilwoman Donna Travis, Rep. Frank Ferri and former Warwick Mayor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee.
A barefoot George Shuster, who hosted the party with his wife Stephanie, mingled with the guests as the folk music of the Rusty Spurs lent a rhythm to the lengthening afternoon shadows. The object of the coalition’s preservation could not have been more obvious. The brook was shimmering in the sun for all to see.