Traverse City Record-Eagle

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August 24, 2013

Leading environmentalist and community activist Bob Russell dies

TRAVERSE CITY — Robert “Bob” Russell, a driving force behind some of the biggest water quality improvements, recycling efforts, and peace movements in the Grand Traverse region, has died.

Russell, 62, died Friday at a Glen Lake home surrounded by family. He was diagnosed with cancer in May 2011.

A community advocate, Russell believed in educating the public about important issues and minimizing human impact on the environment. He co-founded the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center with is wife, Sally Van Vleck, and served as chairman of the Grand Traverse Board of Public Works that upgraded the city wastewater treatment plant into a state-of-the-art facility.

“He was just a powerful advocate for justice and truth and for taking care of the earth and for spreading knowledge. For educating people on issues,” Van Vleck said. “I’m really grateful for the time we had together. Very grateful. I’m pretty much in awe of my husband.”

John Nelson, Baykeeper with the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, called Russell’s work to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant “critical” to the health of the bay.

“He was the moving force, the guy who got the community behind the wastewater treatment plant we have today,” Nelson said. “And, he did it the right way.”

Russell led a series of community meetings to generate support for expensive plant upgrades and let people know up front it would result in a significant rate increase. The upgrade not only expanded plant capacity but added a third level of treatment that produced an effluent discharged into the Boardman River of drinking water clarity.

Nelson said other communities on the bay have followed Traverse City’s example with state of the art treatment plants and upgrades.

“Bob knew what he was talking about that’s for sure,” Nelson said. “He was a very bright man, a wonderful man.”

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