Clearwater Hones Mission As Executive Director Resigns

Jan 28, 2016

The executive director of the Beacon-based non-profit Hudson River Sloop Clearwater has resigned. His resignation comes just one week after Clearwater announced it was cancelling its annual music festival.

Sloop Clearwater Executive Director Peter Gross has stepped down, citing “significant differences” of vision between himself and the organization. In a press release issued by Clearwater, he also expressed frustration with what he called “long-standing financial and structural challenges” within the organization. Gross could not be reached for additional comment in time for this broadcast. Gross has served as executive director since May of 2014. Clearwater Board President Annie Osborn, who also sits on WAMC’s community advisory board, agrees the visions are different.

“I think the salient sentence is different visions on how to carry out the mission, how to get there,” Osborn says. “Peter would dearly love to look at that part of our mission statement that says that we take care of the Hudson and her tributaries and the people in the Hudson Valley and similar river systems. And I don’t think we have enough resources to do the similar river systems, but we have already been approached by a group in Oregon calling itself Clearwater Columbia or Columbia Clearwater.”

She says other requests have come from Afghanistan, Quebec and India. Osborn says Gross’s previous non-profit work has been focused internationally.

“And I see, going forward, that that’s where he would find himself, in sort of a river rescue international kind of a setting. We don’t have the resources to do that from our office in Beacon. We really have to tend to our knitting,” Osborn says. “And I think that this is very much a positive parting of the ways where Peter can focus on what he loves most and the rest of us in the staff and on the board and in the membership can get on with what we do best, locally.”

President of environmental group Riverkeeper Paul Gallay, who just a few days ago was asked to join Clearwater’s advisory council, says his Westchester-based organization feels for Clearwater.

“Clearwater and Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson have been patrolling the Hudson together for 50 years. And our missions are really completely consistent with one another,” says Gallay. “We at Riverkeeper protect the water quality. Scenic Hudson has always been about the land and parks and vistas. And Clearwater has educated three generations of environmental leaders.And we all advocate together, we all work together to keep water issues on the front burner. And we just cannot imagine the time when we are not working with Clearwater going forward, so we’re pulling for them.”

Osborn says there will not be an immediate search for another executive director so that Clearwater may save money and time, both of which need to be focused on restoring the sloop Clearwater. As for changing the governance structure of Clearwater, Osborn says, “To be determined.”

She describes the structure for the near future.

“I am the president of the board so I’m handling a lot of the inquiries,” says Osborn. “The internal staff management has devolved to the department heads, which they did the last time, very ably, for eight months.”

The organization had previously gone without an executive director, from mid-summer of 2013 until May of 2014. Gallay says good governance is a key part of a non-profit’s survival.

“After 50 years, to be a successful organization you have to have an excellent mission, passionate supporters, a fantastic staff, team, and you have to have great governance,” Gallay says. “In the conversations I’ve been having with Clearwater since this all broke, it’s clear to me that they’re really ramping up their governance, which I think is going to make them stronger coming out of this.”

Gross’s resignation, announced on the two-year anniversary of Pete Seeger’s death, comes nearly one week after Clearwater’s announcement that its annual June festival -- the Great Hudson River Revival -- would be cancelled. The reason, says Osborn, is that holding the festival would be too great a financial risk given the sloop Clearwater is in the middle of a U.S. Coast Guard mandated hull restoration that came with an $850,000 price tag. Despite a state matching grant of $340,000, Osborn says the cash flow just isn’t there to sink into the festival.

Instead, Clearwater plans to hold smaller, monthly music events up and down the Hudson River. The first was held January 24 in Rosendale, and the goal of raising $10,000 was surpassed by $2,000.  In addition, Osborn says that since January 21, Clearwater has received 82 online donations totaling about $10,000.