Call it vigilante environmentalism. If the government can't enforce the laws, the people will, by finding and exposing polluters, taking them to court, forcing them to shut off an ugly spigot. "We usually get calls before the government does," Kennedy tells me later. "If you call the Department of Environmental Conservation, or the EPA, whomever, the chances of something getting done are slim. And don't even think about calling after hours or on a Saturday. But if people call us, they know that something will get done." Riverkeeper's mission is not fluffy and utopian; it's a grouchy, populist, your-dog-can't-shit-on-my-sidewalk kind of environmentalism. As Ford puts it, "This is simple stuff; that's a violation of the law, and the law is there to be enforced."
Up above the Hudson, headed south, Seggos is explaining what will happen next with the quarry we spied earlier. "We'll talk to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, check on the permits using the Freedom of Information Act, investigate it further on the ground, and then, if necessary, take them to court." (As it turns out, the quarry does have a permit to discharge 8 million gallons per day of "pump-out water and storm water," and the state alleges that the drainage does "not have a significant impact on the environment." Which means it's legal, but, as Seggos later tells me, that doesn't always mean it's kosher. Riverkeeper has filed a complaint with the state about the quarry's permit, and investigators will collect water samples in the fall, from boats and kayaks, to monitor the discharge's actual contents.)
"See all those swans over there?" Ford cuts in. Near the Hudson's western edge, a bevy of swans sit bobbing in the river. "They're trumpeters," he says, and banks the helicopter eastward. "I don't want to disturb them." The swans continue their rest as if they never noticed us, high above them in this jet-powered contraption, and that, it seems, is exactly the point. "That's cool," Ford whispers, and, with the Bronx ahead of us in the hazy urban distance, he follows the river home.