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Save the River to introduces new facility, executive director

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CLAYTON — The yearlong construction project to renovate and expand Save the River’s headquarters on Riverside Drive has come to an end.

From 1 to 4 p.m. today, the environmental advocates are inviting the public to tour the new facility and meet the organization’s members and staff.

Save the River broke ground on the roughly $500,000 project last June.

The group’s vision for a new “green” building turned into a reality thanks to donors and Grater Architects, Clayton, which designed the project.

William A. Grater, principal owner of Grater Architects and a longtime board member of Save the River, said the new facility is much more energy efficient thanks to the thermal-resistant material used, the overall focus on reduced air infiltration and the modern heating and controlled ventilation systems.

The new triple-pane glass windows, low-heat coating on different sides of the building and low-energy lighting also will help Save the River minimize its carbon footprint.

The staff moved into the two-story building earlier this year, and work to transform the old building into the group’s storefront and information center was completed Friday, just in time for the group’s donor appreciation dinner that evening.

The advocates for environmental restoration and protection of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River region successfully wrapped up their capital campaign by raising $785,000.

At the open house today, Save the River hopes to have more people meet its new executive director, D. Lee Willbanks, who started work Tuesday.

Jennifer J. Caddick, who led the group for the past six years, will step down June 29.

Mr. Willbanks, 54, is a veteran environmental attorney who was chief of staff to former state senator and now state Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine. Mr. Willbanks has been environmental counsel to Sithe Energies Inc., a power producer headquartered in New York City. He also has worked in youth development with Cornell Cooperation Extension.

The Alabama native is married to Judy Drabicki, state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 6 director. The couple enjoys boating.

Mr. Willbanks said there shouldn’t be any conflicts as both he and his wife take directions from other people.

“Judy takes her directions from what’s set in Albany, and my job is to carry out policies set by Save the River’s board,” he said.

They reside in Limerick and have two grown children, Dana and Jordan.

When asked about his position on wind energy development in the region, Mr. Willbanks simply said he does not “have a dog in the hunt.”

Save the River in 2010 had called for a three-year moratorium on wind projects due to potential threats to bird and bat populations.

Mr. Willbanks earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a law degree and a master’s in public administration from Syracuse University.

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