Last month I lost my friend and colleague at DEQ, Sonja Bjorn-Hansen to a tragic suicide. I know, not a chipper way to start a blog post but I thought I’d share a bit about her here to honor her memory and the terrific accomplishments she personally made towards protecting Oregon’s environment. Sonja worked in the Water Quality division at DEQ for nearly 25 years, writing permits and contributing to the water quality conversation throughout Oregon and abroad. If anyone knew how water quality policy worked in Oregon – it was her. I have no doubt in my mind that she was one of the most gifted and critical contributors to the work that goes on here at DEQ. She never shied away from injecting her opinion even if it went against the status quo. She ruffled feathers quite a bit because I believe she was quite the activist at heart.
In the short time that I have worked in the Water Quality Permitting Section, Sonja had helped me both professionally and with morale (its easy to get bogged down in this line of work when you care a lot). She worked directly across from my desk and we would chat quite often about water and policy issues in Oregon and the PNW. We would also talk about her daughter Pei who was in the process of applying to top universities in order to become an engineer like her mom. In short, I thought the world of Sonja. Before she passed, Sonja had shared an article she wrote: Beyond Erin Brokovich which expanded on the original story of Erin Brokovich, an environmental activist-played by Julia Roberts in the Oscar-winning film. If you haven’t seen the film I think you totally should. With the water quality issues that are occuring in Flint, Michigan, the methane leak in Southern California, or the heavy metals in the air right here in Portland, Oregon – the story could not be any more relevant. And believe me the real Erin Brokovich is all over each of these issues (warning she uses some colorful language towards the end).
But Sonja’s angle in her article was about how she, as someone who works in environmental policy and not as an activist, worked tirelessly to accomplish a lot with respect to water quality in Oregon. I found the article to be wonderfully written and an entertaining read. I think if you are interested in issues with water quality you should give her article a read. Its long but worth reading every line.
When I walk by Sonja’s empty desk each day I am reminded of how much she accomplished working in natural resource policy for 25 years. It breaks my heart that her fate happened the way it did, but I feel that I am a better person for having known her. I know you all have a vested interest in our environment. I hope that you never stop losing the momentum that we need to make a positive difference in the world, because we need it now more than ever. I think Oregon Sea Grant is an entity that is vested in the interests in making a positive difference in Oregon. Thank you OSG for allowing me the opportunity to work with Sonja and the other good folks who work tirelessly at ODEQ.