PRESS RELEASE: Save the Sound announces fall leadership transition in 50th year

Longtime program head and attorney Leah Lopez Schmalz will assume presidency; Curt Johnson will remain involved

New Haven, Conn. – This October, Curt Johnson will retire as president of Save the Sound and Leah Lopez Schmalz will assume leadership of the 50-year-old regional environmental nonprofit.

As Vice President of Programs, Leah Lopez Schmalz currently oversees Save the Sound’s Climate & Resiliency, Healthy Waters, Protected Lands, Ecological Restoration, and Communications departments. She manages a team of advocacy, engineering, science, and communication specialists and develops campaigns to protect the land, air, and water of Connecticut, Westchester, New York City, and Long Island. A long-time environmental advocate who currently lives in Collinsville, CT, her focus on the intersection of climate change, resiliency, and health grew after Hurricane Katrina devastated her home state of Louisiana. Schmalz earned her J.D. and Environmental Law Certificate from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, NY, and her undergraduate study in sustainable architecture and design culminated in a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from the University of Louisiana. She joined Save the Sound as its staff attorney in 2001 and became its head of programs in 2018.

“Over my 20 years at Save the Sound,” said Schmalz, “I’ve seen our organization bloom into a catalyst for lasting change across the region. As we look to this next chapter, we’ll build on our well-established approach of uniting science-driven advocacy, legal expertise, on-the-ground construction, and community engagement to realize significant outcomes for clean waters, resilient neighborhoods, and climate action. Together we can transform systems, protect the vulnerable from oncoming storms, and restore starving habitats to life. Together we can grow towards a bold vision while rooting ourselves in action. I know this future is possible because together, we have a track record of achieving great things.”

Photo of Leah Lopez Schmalz in woods and Curt Johnson on a dock with fish, with background of a marsh

“I’m so proud of all we’ve accomplished together during my nearly three-decade career at Save the Sound,” said Johnson. “Big accomplishments—like leading a collaboration to test waters from Flushing Bay to Mystic Harbor, protecting 15,000 acres of water company lands in Fairfield County, passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, stopping Broadwater, and restoring Sunken Meadow on Long Island. Leah has been the driving force behind many of these efforts to clean our waters, restore our rivers and coast, protect endangered lands, and fight climate change—you deserve her energetic and visionary leadership. It has been an honor to serve as Save the Sound’s president for the last five years, and I am honored as well to be passing the baton to Leah. There are so many exciting things ahead.”

Curt Johnson joined then-Connecticut Fund for the Environment in 1993 to lead the organization’s legal team. Over the decades since he has served multiple leadership roles overseeing programs and helped make possible the mergers of Save the Sound, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Soundkeeper, Inc. before becoming president of the combined regional organization in 2017. Johnson holds a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law, where he co-founded the Environmental Law Clinic, and a master’s degree in the Study of Law from Vermont Law School. He has also served as the Connecticut Co-Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee to Long Island Sound’s National Estuary Program and as President of the Hamden Land Conservation Trust.

Johnson will remain involved with Save the Sound part-time to assist with public engagement around the organization’s new strategic plan campaign.

Save the Sound’s strategic plan is a five-year blueprint that details progress towards a 20-year vision of health across New York and Connecticut. Schmalz has led development of the plan over the last year-and-a-half, charting a course to:

Protect

  • Over 12,000 acres of endangered forest, reservoir, marsh, and shore lands throughout the region;
  • Fifteen bays and harbors from raw sewage by expanding our “data to action” monitoring and fixing program;
  • Our Connecticut and New York coasts by deploying an expanded Soundkeeper team to bust polluters.

Restore

  • At least six river systems by implementing projects to revive historic fish runs, renew ecological function, and create safer, more resilient communities;
  • Twelve shoreline sites through nature-based solutions that provide homes for wildlife and safeguard neighborhoods from storms and flooding.

Transform

  • The equivalent of 160 city blocks with rain gardens to absorb pollution and flood waters;
  • Our region’s climate policy and air quality by adding 4,500 Megawatts of renewable energy and storage and replacing fossil fuel vehicles with clean electric ones and quality public transit;
  • Political will by standing with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led organizations to clean our waters, drive climate action, and hold public officials and private interests to account.

Todd Cort, chair of the Board of Directors for Save the Sound, said, “Save the Sound is entering this transition with a clear vision for the future; robust financial footing; and the strongest programmatic, legal, marketing, and administrative team of our 50-year history. Leah was the unanimous choice of our Board to lead us into the next 50 years because she is an outstanding strategic leader who is excellent at getting projects done.”

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