A Decade of NPS Deceit in Drake’s Estero

The value of local news….

A decade of NPS history just repeated itself in Drake’s Estero, and unless Interior Secretary Zinke takes decisive action to root out the entire toxic NPS management culture, we can look forward to a further decade of cover-ups, ethics scandals, sexual harassment and an agency that considers itself above the law and accountable to no one, least of all our local community. Asked to editorialize on the RR Times reporting on NPS and Drakes Estero, I recalled the circumstance when we wrote the “About” page for the then-new website. Tess Elliot, editor of the local Point Reyes Light, wrote a 2009 article for the Nation entitled ‘Scientific Integrity Lost on America’s Parks’ documenting why the Interior Secretary needed to clean up the NPS mess surrounding new National Park Service Director, Jon Jarvis, then poised for Senate approval. The article detailed how Jarvis, in his role as head of NPS Pacific West region had lied to local government and “demonstrated contempt for “truth, transparency and scientific integrity”.

Years later, here the community is again, with a new Secretary of the Interior, awaiting the appointment and Senate approval of a new NPS chief. Last time, the NPS old boy’s club PR machine and beltway politicking overcame objections to Jarvis, an already flawed candidate. Who will Zinke turn to for his sources of information this time? Many people responded to Elliot’s ‘Nation’ article, including our RRT editor who wrote about the role of the local press. “We provide an absolutely critical journalistic function, especially when reporting on local stories that have direct relationship to national issues. Reporting on the concerns of local citizenry, local papers have the luxury of continuing to report on an issue. As editor, I get immediate feedback about the real concerns of my readers–at the post office, at the grocery store and when I deliver papers (admittedly a less glamorous aspect of the rural editor’s job). Continued local concern enables us to cover issues in great detail and over time in a manner simply not possible in the major daily press.”

While NPS scandals were hot topics last year, the ever-shrinking news cycle hides the true arc of the story. Local papers create an important record by covering stories like Drakes Estero over its entire history, from the first revelations to the last oyster harvested in December of 2014 and the subsequent NPS behavior, not only for their own communities but to define a history founded in reality rather than soundbites. The first revelation: NPS was deliberately misleading the community, distorting science and rewriting history to support an entirely ideologically-based  attack designed to cast a well-respected local family, the Lunnys, as environmental criminals and remove their historic Drake’s Bay Oyster Company (DBOC). Over a decade, I have documented the NPS lies, both sins of commission and omission. In many ways, what happened is a microcosm of reasons the Federal government and its agencies have eroded so much of the public trust.

It is axiomatic to a functioning democracy that citizens must be able to trust that government employees, from Washington on down, will speak the truth and follow the law, policy and procedures that govern their jobs. That didn’t happen for the citizens of West Marin. In February of 2006, Don Neubacher, then Superintendent for Point Reyes National Seashore, told the local Press that Congress prevented him from renewing the lease for Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Not true, just the first of more than a decade of lies, documented first with the Point Reyes Light, where I was a columnist, later with the Russian River Times. You may recall Neubacher’s sudden resignation from NPS following last year’s congressional hearings on hostile workplaces and sexual harassment. Retired NPS director Jon Jarvis, disgraced in his own NPS ethics scandal, was also a key player in the smearing of the Lunny family.

NPS vs. the oyster farm and the community.  

In 2006-2007, one of the first revelations was that Point Reyes National Seashore scientists had knowingly misrepresented a US Geographic Service scientist, claiming that his research showed the oyster farm to be the major cause of sediment in the Estero. I wrote a column for the Point Reyes Light entitled “They are Either FOIA or against YA,” essentially accusing the NPS of deliberate lies. Before doing so, I called Dr. Brian Scrag,  now retired, of the Poynter Center for the Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University, an expert on ethics in institutions and research. The Institute was founded with a grant from famed newspaper man Nelson Poynter, who endowed the Institute to study the causes for declining public trust in government and societal structures.

I asked Dr. Schrag, in light of NPS’ failure to comply with FOIA and Data Quality Act, if it was reasonable, based on my reporting experiences so far, to expect Department of the Interior and Congressional oversight committees to force the Department of the Interior and the NPS to follow their own rules, regulations and scientific procedures. Asked for a quote for my 2007 article, he stated: “Some have charged that under the current administration government scientific research has become politicized. What is worrisome, if that happens, is that the normal checks and balances of scientific research can be compromised.” The claims of NPS’ scientists lying about research in Drakes Estero were confirmed by DOI Inspector Devaney’s October 2008 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, where the section on the National Park Service was entitled, “NPS Scientist Misrepresents Research.” Under Jarvis, the NPS promoted that scientist to a senior position overseeing marine research.

A most damaging lie was the claim first made to a May 2007 meeting of the Marin County Board of Supervisors by Don Neubacher, former Point Reyes Seashore superintendent and key player in the Yosemite scandal, that DBOC was causing a massive loss of hundreds of seal pups. This was patently untrue, and attempts to erase this lie show the Jarvis administration obsession with wiping out all memory of the oyster farm. A secret camera program, designed to ‘prove’ seal harm from DBOC, showed the exact opposite and was hidden from the DOI IG, the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Mammal Commission. After being caught with the secret photos, NPS claimed that an independent scientists’ retained by NPS to review of the previously concealed photographic evidence concluded oyster boats caused seal disturbances.  But in 2015, Newsweek reporter Michael Ames revealed that the scientists’ report was altered to show that disturbances had been caused by the oyster boats

It is worth quoting a few lines directly from Ames report: “In 2012, with the end of the farm’s lease approaching, the DOI ordered the USGS to complete a definitive study of the seal photographs. Stewart, a respected 37-year veteran in the field, was called in as an independent authority to determine whether the photos were sufficient for scientific research and whether, after years of internal recrimination at DOI and the Park Service over the issue, DBOC boats had disturbed the creatures. On May 3, 2012, Stewart filed his reports, determining there were no disturbances attributable to the oyster farm’s boats. (There was one case, however, where a curious kayaker caused several seals to flush into the water.) But when the USGS published its final report that November, Stewart discovered that his findings had been altered and that the study reached conclusions his research directly contradicted. “It’s clear that what I provided to them and what they produced were different conclusions and different values,” says Stewart. “In science, you shouldn’t do that.”  Lacking any respect for the law and ethics, NPS included the false data in documents provided to Department of Justice lawyers, who quoted it in their arguments against DBOC in the federal court case. The Jarvis/NPS pattern of withholding information, altering reports and editing history to cover lies and falsehoods is pervasive.

The Russian River Times thought that the oyster-farm story was over until a whistleblower  contacted the paper revealing serious environmental, safety and payroll violations in the 2016/17 $4 million dollar Estero Restoration project. A FOIA request confirmed that the NPS had withheld information on toxic waste from permitting agencies and flagrantly violated regulations on handling toxic material. The FOIA material revealed that Jarvis had received a Nov 29, 2017 DOI OIG memorandum that showed, among other significant issues, that NPS had classified the waste to be removed in the Estero as toxic, containing heavy metals. It also stated that the whistleblower had followed the correct protocols in his complaint regarding salary and safety, both upheld subsequently by the Department of Labor, and OSHA.  The DOI memo returned the investigation to NPS control, giving it 90 days to complete its investigation and respond to the IG. The deadline was the end of February, yet as of mid-April, a DOI IG investigator in contact with the whistleblower claimed that NPS had yet to respond. If the Department of the Interior can’t get a straight story from NPS, what chance does the victim of an NPS smear campaign to get a response from NPS?

This NPS behavior was very much evident in Drakes Estero. In 2007, after a meeting between Senator Feinstein, local officials, Mary Bomar, (then NPS director), Kevin Lunny  and others, the NPS was forced to withdraw a report on Drakes Estero because of scientific error.  This meeting lead to a 2009, National Academy of Science report on NPS scientific  studies which stated  “NPS selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available (as of 2007) scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation” and essentially denied all Jarvis’ (then NPS regional director)  claims of significant harm from DBOC. Jarvis initially said that ‘mistakes had been made’ and also  claimed that the NAS report would be used to improve management.’  Instead he made statements to the Press that essentially reinstated all of the claims. DBOC’s Kevin Lunny wrote two letters to Jarvis, asking that he define the unidentified ‘mistakes’ in the first report, and after Jarvis reinstatement of the falsehoods, a second Dec 31, 2009 letter pointing out the falsehoods in Jarvis actions and demanding an explanation.  The Russian River Times has obtained Lunny’s permission to publish both letters.

Jarvis and NPS have, to date, ignored the OIG’s 29 Nov 2016 IG memorandum, ironically addressed to Jarvis shortly before his resignation from NPS. A pattern emerges, as if from a hidden NPS playbook designed to attack and destroy, rather than correct and resolve. The Park Service never responded and never retracted their claims that Lunny was an environmental criminal who caused the death of seal pups and threatened the Estero itself. Reading the letters, one can imagine how they felt under this onslaught, especially when Lunny recalls Neubacher and the NPS’ lawyer’s  comments to him that “the Park Service pays for our attorneys.” In an recent RRT article I referred to the Jarvis’/NPS’ strategy of ‘Defer, Delay, Deny, Misdirect and Bury’ at last year’s Congressional hearings, which commented on multiple appearances by senior NPS officials with little or no evidence of change.

What happened in Drakes Estero prevails throughout NPS, given the long list of scandals breaking into the national news from Yosemite to Yellowstone, Canaveral to the Grand Canyon and elsewhere.  It will continue unless DOI imposes a complete housecleaning of the NPS inbred, closed culture.  It speaks volumes about the NPS’ ‘good old boy’ network, as commented upon in the Southern Utah/St. George Independent, that John Reynolds, father of the current acting NPS chief Mike Reynolds, was the official who gave Jarvis his first park superintendent job. New DOI chief Zinke should understand that the problems of sexual harassment, bogus science and a hostile workplace are not isolated problems but result directly from a culture that holds itself unique, unaccountable and above the law.

Consider the complaint of sexual harassment in the Grand Canyon, one of the subjects of last year’s congressional hearings, first reported to the DOI IG in 2004, as documented in former NPS Special Investigator Paul Berkowitz latest book on the NPS which also cites a 2003 statement by then DOI IG Earl Devaney: “Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, I have served in the Federal Government for a little over 32 years, and I have never seen an organization more unwilling to accept constructive criticism or embrace new ideas than the National Park Service. Their culture is to fight fiercely to protect the status quo and reject any idea that is not their own.” Secretary Zinke, the Russian River Times wishes you every success in restoring the nationwide damage NPS management has done to what famed conservationist and writer Wallace Stegner called “America’s Best Idea”

Written by Russian River Times contributing editor John Hulls

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NPS to the Lunny Family: We don’t have to tell you anything

The Russian River Times posted these letters with permission from the Lunny family and are referenced in the subsequent editorial. We are looking at this type of post in conjunction with our other reporting as a way to  use the web to show directly how news can impact our local residents. Sometimes it is best to give space to the voices of the people impacted by government actions to tell the tale. These two letters serve as a valuable example of how some government agencies, in their arrogance, ignore law, policy, procedure and facts yet feel they have no need to even respond to the citizens whose life they impact. Continue reading

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Toxic National Park Service

More corruptive acts in the decade long battle to close the historic oyster farm in Drake’s Estero

The Russian River Times (RR Times) has obtained photographs and samples from the National Park Service (NPS) Drake’s Estero ‘Restoration’ project site where the toxic wood waste from the removal of the old oyster racks from the former oyster company were brought ashore.  The photos and samples show gross violations of the conditions mandated for the NPS project approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and other agencies.  They also document a complete disregard for state and federal regulations governing the handling of toxic wood wastes, dredging bottom lands and a host of other environmental safeguards. 

Concurrently, the NPS released over a thousand pages of documents that, when compared with documents submitted to obtain the project’s permits, show a disturbing pattern of a federal agency that believes it can do as it pleases and answers to no one, least of all the local community, the State of California, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is not reticent in bullying other agencies to get its way.   In Point Reyes, NPS has a long history of selectively editing and withholding information from other agencies, not only its own material, but information received from other agencies prior to the start of a project. This is clearly shown in the recently released documents.

NPS knew of toxic materials prior to commencing project planning

On 29 November 2016, then-NPS Director, Jon Jarvis, was directed by the Interior Department’s Inspector General (IG) to investigate detailed complaints about worker safety, worker compensation and the improper containment of toxic material into Drake’s Estero.  RR Times readers will recall that Jarvis, then Western Regional NPS Director, was the main NPS instigator in the battle to remove the oyster farm, dating back over a decade, which led to numerous investigations by, among others, National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Interior Department’s Solicitor’s Office and Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), none of whom found the claimed harm from the Drake’s Estero oyster farm operation.

NPS documents and reports appended to the IG’s November memorandum to Jarvis reveal that NPS officials knew about the presence of toxic material in the oyster racks slated for removal from tests performed prior to the award of the restoration contract.  According to Jack Williams, NPS Construction Management Representative for the Drake’s Estero project, NPS performed screening tests on the materials to be recovered, and determined that the material was hazardous, stating that “…arsenic, chromium and creosol (a toxic disinfectant component of creosote) were identified in NPS’s testing.”

Despite the tests showing the presence of toxic metals and creosote, the only mention in the NPS permit-application environmental documents submitted to USACE and others is a claim in the water-quality section of the  February 2015 NPS EFS (Environmental Screening Form), which asserts that they ran a NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) computer program model showing that all of the toxics had leached out of the wood. It fails to state that actual tests were performed by NPS, contradicting  the claims that there were no heavy metals or wood preservative in the oyster racks and pilings.

NPS knew of threats to fish habitat and steelhead and coho salmon

None of these threats are mentioned in their permit applications to USACE or consultations with NMFS. NPS committed to following BMPs (Best Management Practices) yet withheld from USACE and others that it knew of threats to water quality, essential fish habitat and endangered steelhead and coho salmon well before the start of the Drake’s Estero Restoration project.

In 2011, the DOI commissioned Atkins Inc. to peer review the NPS’ controversial DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Report) on the Drake’s Estero special-use permit and the potential closure of the oyster farm. In it, the Atkins report clearly identifies the threats to EFH (Essential fish habitat) and endangered steelhead and coho salmon. These fish are extremely sensitive to toxicity from the material in oyster racks, pilings and surrounding sediment. The report notes that tests and permits would be required for the removal of the oyster racks and pilings.

 The Atkins report made several recommendations including stating that Review the scientific studies in NOAA Fisheries – Southwest Region (2009) to develop the same level of analytical detail presented for other water quality impacts in the DEIS. Conduct the detailed analytical approach in the ESA and EFH consultation efforts that are reported as underway for the DEIS and will be required for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permitting process as noted in the DEIS” (emphasis added). The NPS committed to following the specified NOAA BMPs (Best Management Practices), including in its NEPA required Categorical Exclusion form submission to USACE, yet there is no indication that they did so, either in the removal of the toxic material from the Estero, control of sediment, or in its subsequent handling or disposal.

The NOAA report referenced by Atkins, ‘The Use of Treated Wood Products in Aquatic Environments’ is used by USACE and other permitting agencies as the guiding document for Best Management Practices (BMPs)  It states that the NMFS leaching models that NPS cites, while useful, are not adequate without local site testing.  More importantly, it shows that the toxic material can leach into the sediment, impacting areas over two meters from the wood.  Most critically, it states in the Demolition BMPs’ section that sediments adjacent to the project should be analyzed. The NPS required conformance with BMPs, including specifically sediments, in its NEPA required Categorical Exclusion form submission to USACE

NPS eliminated environmental safeguards without approval

The project plans submitted by NPS to USACE and other called for lumber from the oyster racks and pilings to be placed directly into containers on the barge, and transferred to containers on land prior to shipment to a Class 1 landfill, eliminating any risk to groundwater, as specified in the contract.  Instead, the contractor piled both treated lumber and dredged debris directly on the ground, in clear violation of State and Federal requirements. The USACE permit requires notification of any change in the project, the USACE states they have no record of allowing any such changes.

Toxic Pit

Unloading site for dredged material showing depressed area with sediment and crushed waste with piles of dredged wood fragments to the left of excavator.  Compare with Press Democrat photo of operations, taken from hill behind estero to see location relative to the shore of the Estero (see link in following paragraph.)

The image shows water-saturated wood waste, along with other debris (stacked to the left of the excavator) allowed to drain directly onto the ground, then apparently crushed to reduce volume for shipping, practices banned by both Federal and State regulations. This has created a muddy, saucer-shaped depression covered with dredged sediment, fragments of wood and crushed plastic tubes.  The area covered is almost an acre, only a few feet from the shores of the Estero. A 12 April 2017 photo from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat website, taken during operations, shows water draining from the saturated toxic wood waste in the dark pile on the right of the image, ponding in the depression and draining towards the Estero.  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6876346-181/drakes-estero-cleanup-in-point?artslide=0

Federal and State rules and regulations, included in the NPS permit-applications material, place strict requirements for handling, storing and shipping toxic material, including storage only on impervious barriers, protection from weather and proper collection and disposal. In addition, the material must be reported and tracked in an unbroken chain of custody from origin to ultimate disposal. The RR Times has not yet been able to determine whether required testing was performed, has not yet obtained the shipping and disposal records, nor determined whether such mandated records and documents were even kept.

NPS changed contract, abandons waste disposal supervision

NPS records show they abandoned much of the contract supervision of when it switched the contract billing for the waste disposal from an hourly rate to a fixed amount, as discussed in a string of internal e-mails starting on 12 July 2016. The string starts with Daniel Fleming, an NPS project specialist, who writes to the contract officer stating, “Why did we use unit pricing for CLIN3 Debris Removal instead of a Lump Sum?…We discussed that it will require a lot of oversight to verify these hours.” NPS managers questioned the manner in which the contract might be altered.

On 13 July, Jack Williams , mentioned above for his statement about the presence of toxics, states: We should discuss the ‘Debris Removal’ bid prior to our meeting with the Contractor Pre-con.  As currently awarded, we will need a mechanism to track hours or there could be future debates and potential for claims.” Jason Longshore, contract officer replies: “Also, to follow up on the debris removal, we can easily change that to a lump sum if that helps the process.  It is a firm fixed-price contract, so regardless of quantities, they are owed that much.”  The contract change on the $1.29 million line item was signed by the prime contractor, T.L. Petersen on 16 Dec 2016, months after debris removal began.

Contract specifications contradict permit environmental documentation

The restoration contract, which was not submitted with the permit application documents also contains the only specific reference to the toxic nature of the wood waste. As previously discussed the presence of toxic metal is not mentioned in any of the environmental documents submitted in permit applications.  The contract contradicts the permit applications and states that, as part of an earlier report, “ samples were taken from rack materials and 6 of the 7 samples showed positive for creosote.  The demolished material will need to be taken to a Class 1 landfill.”(emphasis added)

NPS makes misleading and non-credible statements to ABC TV Channel 7

In a recent statement to ABC Channel 7 TV in San Francisco, the Park Service spokesman, responding to whistleblower claims of OSHA safety violations and environmental problems, stated that the contractor corrected these findings immediately. OSHA did not make any findings with respect to the handling and disposal of treated lumber,” adding that “all methods relating to the project work were permitted and approved by regulatory agencies.”  This statement is an attempt to mislead, as OSHA does not regulate toxic waste disposal. The statement about permitting defies credulity as, for example, NPS own photos show many of the violations, including toxic material placed on unprotected soil in clear violation of federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations as well as California Department of Toxic Substance Control regulations.

NPS has also stalled for months on its response to the DOI IG. In the previously mentioned 29 Nov memorandum to then NPS Director Jarvis, the DOI, after a cursory examination of a detailed complaint that made serious accusations regarding worker safety and environmental protection, turned the investigation back to NPS to investigate itself.  The memorandum states that the NPS official assigned to investigate this matter should complete and return an Accountability form within 90 days of the receipt of the 29 Nov Memorandum.  It is now well over five months since the memorandum was issued. The  whistleblower was told that in discussions with the IG investigator that NPS has so far refused to comply, despite multiple requests.

Defer, Delay, Deny, Misdirect and Bury

Many of the community in West Marin feel that the NPS has lied to them for over a decade.  It is ironic that one of NPS Director Jarvis’ last acts involved the DOI IG report on NPS environmental violations in Drake’s Estero.  Jarvis’ tactic of defer, delay and deny has been invoked – again. Today, they have been joined by misdirect and bury.  These NPS practices became more visible to the public in last year’s series of Congressional oversight hearings on NPS misconduct at Grand Canyon where sexual harassment had been covered up for decades, the same as the Indian Mound contracting scandal continued for years until uncovered by PEER.
https://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/park-service-pours-bucket-of-mush-on-effigy-mounds-scandal.html     These same NPS strategies are alive and sick on the shores of Drake’s Estero, as they have been for the past decade.  The Department of the Interior needs to step in, set standards, clean house, and put a stop to the toxic NPS management practices before they do any more damage.
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Dollars Disappear in Drake’s Estero

National Park Service busts through seal-pupping deadline as fired former diver challenges costs.

National Park Service (NPS) was supposed to have finished its Drakes Estero Restoration Project by the beginning of the seal- pupping season on March 1 this year.  In its lengthy battle to evict the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC), NPS previously made unsupported claims, dating all the way back to early 2007 testimony before the Marin County Board of Supervisors, that even minor disturbances would cause massive loss of seal pups. Regardless of these claims, NPS’ work has continued for over two months into the critical pupping season, which runs for four months, ending 30 June. The work involves continuous operations of large barges and excavators throughout the Estero.  The barge and shoreside facilities are clearly visible in this image from a recent flight over Drake’s Estero. NPS has not respond to enquiries prior to publication.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 1.54.01 PM

Aerial Photo Showing Barges and Equipment at old DBOC Site

In a previous RR Times article, Matt Zugsberger, a contract diver who claims that he was fired from the project for whistleblower activities, made numerous statements concerning his employment and worker safety. He also told the RR Times that from his review of the NPS website, the level of effort and environmental compliance was far less than that described in the NPS documents and safety and technical procedures were “way out of line on other projects I have worked on involving pilings and treated timber.”   To proceed with his investigations, Zugsberger filed FOIA actions with National Park Service, Department of Labor, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  So far, only USACE has completed his FOIA request.

“I had been told by Galindo, the subcontractor that hired and subsequently fired me, that this was a $4+ million project, but it was only after I received the actual contract from NPS as a preliminary response on my FOIA request,  and the NPS Preliminary Engineering report (among other documents) from USACE that my suspicions were confirmed. I started out wanting to make sure I could work safely, and ended up getting fired for my troubles,” said Zugsberger, in the earlier RR Times reporting.  “After I was terminated, I reviewed the documents on the NPS website, and found that the planned scope of the project was much larger than what was being provided by the subcontractor.”

Zugsberger provided the RR Times with copies of the contract, and the USACE documents.  “The first thing I noticed was that the contract clearly specified on page 11 that the wood waste was toxic and had to be hauled to a Class 1 landfill.  The engineering report on page 13 lists 477 tons of toxic wood waste, and assumed that some mud and additional debris would be sticking to some of the wood. When I reported receiving chemical burns, I was told by Galindo and NPS and other Government personnel that toxic sediment was not a factor, and that they had run models that showed all the toxins had leached out of the wood.”  RR Times could not find any direct reference to the presence of 447 tons of toxic wood with potentially adhering sediment in the documents submitted for USACE approval by the Park Service.

Other than the previously cited reference in the Preliminary Engineering  report, there are only oblique reference appearing on page seven of the 17 Sept 2015 NPS Environmental Screening Form under ‘Water Quality,’ implying that models showed all toxins leached out after one year and a reference to tonnage of oyster rack. In addition, the NPS Categorical Exclusion Form (used to avoid the need for an environmental-impact statement) does not mention the 447 tons of toxic wood waste requiring disposal in a Class 1 landfill, but merely states that a total of 500 tons of aquaculture and marine debris will be removed. It was signed by Park Superintendent Cecily Muldoon in January 2016.

Zugsberger has been very focused in tracking down his concerns. “Once I saw NPS had specified that the treated wood waste (TWW) had to go to a Class 1 dump, I realized I could get a pretty good estimate of actual costs. The disposal of the waste was line item 3 on page 10 in the contract for $1,299,000, out of the initial $3.5 million discussed. It was initially listed as an hourly charge, but was changed to a bulk (fixed price) payment when the contract was revised on 6 December 2016, shortly after I was fired. I don’t know if there was any connection, but any documents on that issues are subject to my FOIA requests. Slow FOIA response, especially from Department of Labor has made it virtually impossible to pursue my wage claims and defend myself against baseless accusations.”

Zugsberger stated: “I called all the California Class 1 dumps, and couldn’t find any who had accepted that much toxic wood waste. It was only when I called a couple of the big waste- hauling companies that I finally discovered where some of the waste had gone. Waste Management’s sales manager recognized the name of the contractor, but he understood that some of the waste had gone to WMI’s Redwood Landfill in Marin, but that they wouldn’t have accepted the wood but that their Altamonte Landfill is not a Class 1 dump, but can accept some treated wood waste (TWW) of this type, but he didn’t remember a large contract like that.” Zugsberger also claimed that Galindo made repeated references to disposing of some of the waste “in the Delta, for erosion control.” Galindo construction has sofar failed to respond inquiries by the RR Times.

Zugsberger went on to describe his analysis; “Altamont is approximately 90 miles from Point Reyes, and 500 tons of waste would require 25 trips. If you assume a generous $2,000 a trip, that’s only $50,000 total, with tipping fees according to WMI being $75 a ton, or $37,500.  If you add $500 to load each truck, for an additional $12,500, which is a very high figure, you still end up with a total of $107,500 for the wood waste. Much of the remaining waste, if not contaminated, would have a significantly lower tipping fee. Using the same cost basis for all of the waste removed, and rounding it up to 1,500 tons, the total bill still comes to only $262,500. So the question is this: where did the waste go, and when you take away $262,500 from $1,299,000, where did just over $1 million dollars go?”

The RR Times has reviewed Zugsberger’s figures, based on the documents provided by the USACE, and documents on the PRNS website, and he is correct in his general understanding.  A 2014 Press Democrat article cites costs of $400,000 for both rack removal and waste disposal.  Court records show that Kevin Lunny of DBOC, in a sworn court statement, provided the estimates of the amount of timber in the racks which were used as the basis of the NPS Engineering report analysis. DBOC estimated the dry weight of the wood as 375 tons, but could weigh more because of water saturation.  It was also noted that such TWW could not be disposed of in a local landfill.  The court documents also note that it was proposed to ship the waste to Marin Resource Recovery Center, a three-hour round trip from the Estero, for a total cost of $9,375. WMRC are licensed to act as a transfer station for Toxic Wood Waste and charge a $150/ton tipping fee. Coupled with the $9,375 trucking costs, this equates to a total of $56,250. As a worst case, applying that cost model to the entire 1,500-ton volume of waste produces a total cost of $225,000, very close to Zugsberger’s estimate of $262,500

Given the major discrepancy between court records, outside confirmation and the line item for waste disposal in the no-bid waste-removal contract, the only way to reconcile the issue is for NPS and its contractors to account fully for the total volume of the waste.  how they stored and handled it in accordance with conditions called for in the permits, and federal and state laws. Equally important is whether the waste ended up in a legal repository, what actual costs were involved and why there is such a huge difference between rationally estimated waste-disposal costs and the amount paid.

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National Park Service: There they go again

Triggered by a whistleblower, another NPS cloud of scandal descends on Point Reyes National Seashore .

The  National Parks Foundation (NPF) website, under the heading ‘Saving the Ecological Sanctuary of an Estuary,’ talks about their contribution to the $4 million contract to remove the last traces of the historic oyster farm, shut down NPS and Interior Secretary Salazar in 2014. The NPF’s $2 million contribution to the contract was to help make the Drakes Estero restoration a ‘signature project’ for the Park Centennial. It is indeed a signature project, a $4 million dollar no-bid contract with essentially no effort or effective oversight to insure that the work was performed according to acceptable standards. The NPS oyster rack removal is yet another poster child for just-retired Director Jon Jarvis’ sad legacy of scandal, ineffective management and ethical myopia that marked his tenure as head of the Park Service

Jarvis, until 2009 served as head of NPS Western Region, was himself largely responsible for much of the scientific misconduct and coverup summarized in Senator Feinstein’s March 2012 letter to Interior Secretary Salazar: “I am frankly stunned that after all the controversy over past abuse of science on this issue, Park Service employees would feel emboldened to once again fabricate the science in building a case against the oyster farm. I can only attribute this conduct to an unwavering bias against the oyster farm and historic ranches.”
The whole Estero story, which the Times covered extensively, re-emerged as the result of a whistleblower who has provided information that brings into question the last decade of NPS science and management of the Drake’s Estero. This ongoing story emerged shortly before Christmas.

The Russian River Times was approached by Matt Zugsberger, a professional diver and former Marine with almost 17 years of underwater experience, who provided the image shown below.  His experience ranges from Hurricane Katrina repairs to decommissioning the PG&E Hunter’s Point power station, with clients ranging from the Army Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Coast Guard, and many others. Zugsberger relayed how he expressed significant safety and environmental concern, first to the subcontractor, then to NPS, for failure to follow required environmental and safety standards. After the subcontractor retaliated against him, refusing to provide promised support then ultimately firing him, he filed for whistleblower protection.

Zugsberger has shown the Times documents where OSHA (Occupations Safety and Hazards Agency) have already concluded there were serious violations of safety procedures by the contractor. OSHA  and other agencies have ongoing investigations into Zugsberger’s allegations.

Pulling Oyster Racks and Pilings in Drakes Estero

barge-image-jpegPhoto showing several of the safety and environmental violations documented in Zugsberger’s complaints, prepared  from review of the documents available on the Point Reyes National Seashore website, as well as experience and documentation on similar jobs for Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers. He can be seen in the water to the right of the barge. Photo: National Parks Foundation. (use claimed under 17 US C0de 107)

Zugsberger provided a list, detailing all of the safety and environmental violations that he observed and reported to NPS, DOI Inspector General and others.  Several of these are shown in the image above.

1.  No required containment area on barge to prevent run-off and spillage of invasive species and contaminated mud into the estero.  Note water draining from bucket spilling on deck and washing overboard.

2.  Excavator bucket repeatedly dragged marine growth and attached sediment against the edge and floor of the barge.

3. Diver in pinch-point hazard (could be trapped between load or bucket and barge).

4. Lack of proper safety equipment, e.g. no hardhat on excavator operator, no proper life jackets, no personnel protection equipment to prevent exposure to toxic materials in wood and bottom sediment.

Prior to commencing work, Zugsberger prepared a Safe Practices Operations Manual, submitted to the contractor via e-mail on 10 July 2016 and subsequently hand-delivered to NPS officials. The purpose of this manual was to fulfill mandatory safety requirements. The many violations of this Manual and NPS documents are set forth in the list he provided. In his first interview with the Russian River Times, he described what greeted him on the first day of the job, using language far more appropriate to his former Marine Corps background than a community newspaper. There were none of the items common to his extensive prior job experience for what met him: “no proper safety crew, no group briefings on job plan, no group briefings on threatened and endangered species” or many of the items called for in the Safe Practices Manual or Park Service documents.

Zugsberger noted that the requirement in the NPS 15 April 2015 Project Description somewhat resemble programs for underwater debris removal and piling jobs he worked on with Coast Guard and private contractors. The original NPS documents for this project called for multiple crews and barges and hazardous waste containment on the barges and on shore. The documents are specific about handling of hazmat materials (coming under hazardous material regulations) and other contaminated materials such as sediment with heavy metals and creosote, removed chemically-treated pilings and invasive species. He states that “if the contractor’s work performance was held to compliance with even the minimal 2015 NPS plans, the NPS official responsible should have shut the job down after the first week”. Instead, NPS allowed the contractor to erode and evade essentially all responsibility for environmental and safety compliance.

This story dates back to early 2006, when then-Point Reyes Superintendent Neubacher, who recently retired as Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, reported to Jon Jarvis, then-Western Regional Superintendent and recently retired NPS Director. They launched a campaign to eliminate Drakes Bay Oyster Company and discredit its owners, the Lunny family  They worked with Gordon Bennett, a former Sierra Club official (subsequently fired) who wrote in a May/June 2006 Sierra Club publication, alleging that the oyster company was disturbing harbor seals, poisoning the estuary, destroying eelgrass, spreading invasive species, violating its permits and a host of allegations that were all subsequently discredited. Now a decade later, according to Zugsberger, NPS and its allies may well be guilty of the very environmental sins of which they accused the Lunnys.

Like the 2006 Sierra Club accusations, the recent NPF website article is another example of  the Park Service and its allies rewriting history to eradicate all traces of the oyster farm and their campaign to close it down. Reading the NPF documents and studying their video, clearly designed to imply that the oyster racks were continuing to do major harm to the estero, one would have no idea that the National Academy of Sciences had concluded that there was no evidence of any significant impact from the oyster operation and held that NPS had knowingly distorted data:   Neither would the NPF reader be aware that Will Shafroth, now president of the NPF, was fully involved in the battle over NPS scientific misconduct from his service as Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife & Parks.

Times readers may find it hard to believe that there can be such lack of oversight and compliance by the Park Service, but it is an all-too-common NPS trait.  The Times spoke with a former NPS senior investigator.  He stated that there is little uniformity in NPS management practices, matters being largely left up to superintendents. He cited the recent case of the Effigy Mound National Park where, despite nearly a decade of whistleblowing and repeated complaints to the DOI IG, well over $3 million was spent with no meaningful oversight.

The NPS investigator with whom we spoke said that one characteristic of these cases is that they are buried because DOI IG simply refers the issue back to NPS for self-investigation, which is what happened on multiple occasions at Effigy Mound. The same chain of events took place at Point Reyes National Seashore with Zugsberger’s complaint about the current work being referred back to NPS for self-investigation, despite a decade of multiple complaints to NPS, DOI IG and others about Drakes Estero.

With the latest revelations of NPS failures in the Estero, the story has come full circle back to Jarvis. The real question that remains is that with harassment scandals, contracting fiascos and ethical lapses, how deep and wide has the NPS rot actually spread, and what will it take to root it out?

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California Coastal Commission Gets Its Own Facts Wrong in Oyster Company Court Hearing.

The Russian River Times recently caught up with Phyllis Faber, one of the founding members of the California Coastal Commission board, who, along with the Alliance for Locally Sustainable Agriculture, has now sued her former organization for their actions against Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC)and the Lunny family, who operate the historic oyster farm in Drake’s Estero at Point Reyes National Seashore.  Faber is a well-respected scientist for her work in marshland ecology, as well as an environmental icon, responsible for the development of Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) which has preserved in perpetuity over 30,000 acres of Marin farmland  and has served as a model for land trust preservation everywhere.

Speaking of her vital work in the creation of the Coastal Commission, the late Peter Douglas, the first executive director of the Commission, praised Faber for her service. “Throughout the heat of political struggle, Phyllis maintained high standards of integrity and scientific honesty. Her compassion for other creatures with whom we share this planet was matched by her sensitivity to the needs of people and individuals with whom she came in contact. Whenever volunteers were needed in the course of the seven year campaign to enact California’s pioneering and bitterly fought over coastal protection program in the 1970’s, Phyllis was there ready, willing and able to do all she could to help the cause….”

Faber continues to fight for science and integrity and coastal preservation. The Marin Superior Court posted their decision on a ‘motion to stay’ the pending Coastal Commission actions against DBOC on July 16, essentially stating that further actions in the case will be held in abeyance until after the federal court decision on motions in the case brought by Drakes Bay Oyster Company against the National Park Service.  NPS has been trying to eliminate the oyster farm for almost a decade, using false science, fabricated claims and falsified data, which the Times has covered extensively since the beginning of the controversy in 2007.

Faber pointed out in the transcript of the recent Marin Superior Court hearing, that statement-after-statement s made by the California Attorney-General’s office, representing the Coastal Commission, were patently false, and were contradicted by the CCC’s own record, well-known to them at the time.  The most egregious of these is already the subject of a complaint of false information made by Faber’s attorneys relating to claims that DBOC had exceeded the harvest levels specified in the 2007 Consent Decree.

According to the Court Transcript of the July 2 hearing, the Coastal Commission falsely claimed that DBOC has increased oyster presence in the Estero from 71,000 oysters to 19 million, telling the Court that this massive so-called “expansion” was a threat to the Estero.  This claim does not stand up to even the most cursory examination.  Deputy Attorney General, Joel Jacobs, presented wildly incorrect harvest figures hopelessly scrambles the units of measurement, and seems totally unaware of facts relating to the 2007 Consent Decree.  Either he has been deceived by his client, does not care that he is misrepresenting facts to the court or has simply failed to conduct even the most basic review of the mariculture and environmental issues and information relevant to the case, including the CCC’s own documents, before making inflammatory allegations before Judge Duryee.

DBOC is mandated to report oyster harvest levels to the agency that regulates the resource, California Fish and Wildlife (formerly called CA Department of Fish and Game) in gallons and pounds.  A simple phone call to CDFW would have given him the correct information.  As for the distorted claim that DBOC grew 19 million oysters, Jacobs revealed that he and the CCC either knew nothing about the resource and how oysters were grown or deliberately misled the Court.   The 19 million refers to microscopic spat, which are induced to grow on oyster shells before being placed in the estero and, industry wide, have a very low survival rate.  To illustrate the physical difference one only needs to understand that 19 million microscopic spat mentioned could easily fit in several large 7-11 ‘Big Gulp’ cups.

More telling, the Coastal Commission had information in their own Record that directly contradicted the very assertions presented to Judge Duryee at the hearing.  At the Commission’s request, harvest data was submitted to the Commission by DBOC back in 2007 and all subsequently reports have been made available to CCC.  The information, data and supporting materials previously submitted to the Commission revealed that DBOC has complied with all harvest levels and reporting. When Jacobs and CCC made claims of massive increase in oyster activity, they should have also told the Court that DBOC operates under boat route maps approved by CCC under the 2007 consent decree, and logs all boat trips with GPS and show no significant change in activity.  Thus, the CCC chain of hypothesis of harm disintegrates completely not only at the first link, but every segment of the chain.

The Times spoke with Zack Walton, one of the attorneys representing Phyllis Faber and ALSA in the case against the Coastal Commission.  In a July 6 letter, Walton asked the Coastal Commission to correct their misstatements, as he had provided all of the shellfish harvest figures as reported to the CDFW and additional requested by the Coastal Commission in the negotiations of the consent decree.  The record shows that CCC inexplicably ignored their own findings and the 2007 Consent Decree in their latest complaint of Coastal Act violations.

The amount of shellfish harvest is regulated by CDFW under the DBOC lease, which states that the maximum oyster harvest is 850,000 lbs. and the records provided to the Coastal Commission show that DBOC harvest levels since 2007 are consistent with the 2007 Decree, with the most recent annual 2012 harvest level of 531,182 pounds.  As Walton pointed out, “They totally contradict the position they took when we negotiated the 2007 Consent Decree”.  More importantly, the California Coastal Commission is barred from regulating mariculture by CDFG, which is the lead State agency not only for oyster harvest but marine mammal protection as specified in Section 30411(a) of the Coastal Act, which clearly states that CCC may not duplicate or exceed CDFW actions.

Faber points out that the Coastal Commission is on the wrong side of science in this issue, and had made conclusionary statements that fly in the face of their previous action, and directly contradict findings by the scientific panels of the Marine Mammal Commission and the National Academy of Sciences.  The reports of the individual scientists on the MMC board who are leading experts in their field, found no incompatibility with the oyster operations and the health of the estero and its seal population.

The CCC conclusionary claims of immediate ongoing environmental harm are merely unsubstantiated opinions, many in direct conflict with their own documents and trip reports.  A CCC Trip Report from 2007 concluded that “servicing the oyster bags located several hundred yards away from the haul-out sites probably would not result in disturbance to the seals”.  This CCC finding was ignored by the CCC today.  The same Trip Report also raised claims of harm to eelgrass, yet fails to note, as did the National Academy Report, that eel grass coverage benefits from the filtering effects of the oyster cultivation and doubled in coverage in the estero since 1991.

Faber’s stand for scientific and ethical integrity in preserving California’s coastline continues to this day. She brought the lawsuit against the CCC with great reluctance, as the Coastal Commission has, in the past, been essential to the preservation of the coastline, but in the Drake’s Estero case, they failed to behave in a fair and equitable manner, becoming a law unto themselves, increasingly arbitrary, litigious and capricious. As she states,  “If they continue to lose the trust of all Californians in their ability to fairly protect the public interest, we all lose.”

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What lies in Drake’s Estero

Journalism is supposed to be the first draft of history, not the first rewrite of press releases and sound bites. In recent weeks, some journalists reporting on the Estero controversy say “they would not touch the science,” not realizing the irony that they are essentially saying they are reporting without knowledge. The word ‘science’ itself comes from the Latin scientia, ”to know.”

To report on scientific issues, it is not necessary for reporters to ‘do’ science. For example, to return to the issue of sound as a major impact in the Estero: when the NPS and its EIS consultant substitute the sound of a high- powered jet ski for a small four stroke outboard–as National Park Service did in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement–and claim the Estero is damaged by the sound, it raises issues that can only be answered by the basic journalism questions, Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The standard for journalistic coverage of the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company controversy seems to be based on guilt by six degrees of separation. The bulk of the recent reporting on the ‘ right wing conspiracy to destroy the wilderness act’  claim against DBOC is based solely on the fact that one attorney representing DBOC’s Kevin Lunny is a Republican who worked in Washington for a few months for a charity funded by right-wing interests.

By these standards, we assume that if the oyster-farm opponents report to the press that a lawyer supporting DBOC had defended an arsonist, this would be proof that Kevin Lunny, the DBOC owner, is burning down the Estero.  Much of the general press has shown an equal lack of standards in the other allegations against DBOC, with no real investigation, relying instead on unsubstantiated claims in the press releases of oyster-farm opponents, the latest of which is merely the last in a long line of attempts by National Park Service and its supporters to smear the Lunny family and present them as some sort of environmental criminals.

The press has no excuse for this type of journalism, which merely restates claims from anti-oyster-farm press releases without even the most basic fact checking. There is a marvelous expression in the British press, ‘Churnalism,’ which aptly describes much of the press and TV coverage, e.g. the regurgitation of recent press releases from Amy Trainer of West Marin Environmental Action Committee and the PBS Newshour report, “Strange Bedfellows Join Fight to Keep Oyster Farm in Operation.” There is simply no excuse for this type of inept and biased reporting.

Minimal research uncovers the facts. Both the National Academy of Science study (which found NPS had misrepresented the science), and the Marine Mammal Committee report (whose experts found no incompatibility with oyster operations and the seal population), have summaries and complete lists of all documents on their website. These including letters from the oyster-farm opponents and supporters.  Likewise, the response to the draft EIS contains statements from National Marine Fisheries, Cal Fish and Game that conflict directly with the allegations of the oyster-farm opponents.

Small local papers like the Russian River Times report stories that impact their communities, often over several years, while the larger press tends to only pick up on the sensational, often from unsubstantiated press releases and statements from advocacy groups. The truth is that NPS and its allies have conducted a long national campaign to portray the Lunnys as environmental criminals, damaging wilderness for personal gain. Locally, the Lunnys are known as a third-generation ranching family, well respected as responsible stewards and valued members of the community. Examples include their assistance with grazing research to support rangeland carbon sequestration, supporting shellfish restoration in San Francisco Bay, local composting projects, and working with endangered species restoration.

Ironically, the NPS also celebrated the Lunny’s contributions in a 2007 publication about stewardship in National Parks entitled, ‘Stewardship Begins with People.’ Page 45 shows a photo of Kevin Lunny and Seashore rancher David Evans and the statement that ”…both have been recognized for their environmental stewardship and innovation.”  In a currently available on-line version of this NPS document, Lunny has been literally airbrushed out.  He was made to disappear!  What is disturbing is that the Lunny’s environmental stewardship is ignored in most of the press coverage where NPS and its allies have attempted to destroy the Lunny’s reputation for stewardship. Not five months after the publication date back in 2007, Point Reyes Seashore Superintendent Don Neubacher told Marin County Supervisors that Lunny was an environmental criminal.

The “smear Lunny” campaign began in the spring 2006 Sierra Club Yodeler magazine by Gordon Bennett, then Chair, Marin Chapter.  Even an internet review will show that much of the campaign against the Lunnys originated with one individual, plus the direct involvement of a then-retired major Sacramento political player, active in West Marin after leaving his job with a major environmental lobbying group under a cloud.

Anything beyond the most cursory examination would find multiple cases of hidden and misrepresented data, not to mention deliberately altered photographs used without permission, known false statements about endangered species and the creation of a new hypothesis of harm each time previous claims were discredited.

Oyster-farm opponents and NPS would have you believe that sound (violations of soundscape standards) is a major problem in the Estero, implying that the experts on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel and the seal experts on the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) panel made a serious mistake in failing to identify sound as a major issue.  In their 2009 letter to the MMC, which lead to its investigation, Neil Desai of NPCA and Gordon Bennett, then of the Sierra Club, failed to even reference sound or raise the issue.

Gordon Bennett became involved in West Marin environmental activities after he sold his Westbrae Natural Foods business to the Hain Group in 1997. He unfortunately invested much of the proceeds with the infamous Bernie Madoff before becoming active in West Marin environmental issues. Bennett, in his role as Chair of the Marin County Sierra Club group, posted in an article in the Spring 2006 Sierra Club Yodeler, with false claims about criminal destruction of eelgrass, misleading claims invasive aquatic species, and distorted claims about marine debris (conveniently omitting DBOC’s clean-up efforts at Drakes Estero both on shore and in the Estero.)

Bennett is also the first author of the false claims that Lunny was obliged to vacate the lease by 2012.  (See Russian River Times “What Was the Deal?”)  Bennett appears to have become obsessed with eliminating the oyster company, filing multiple complaints with multiple government agencies, relying on convoluted ‘interpretation’ of documents.

The classic was a September 2009 letter from Bennett, as Sierra Club Marin Group Parks Chair, to multiple government agencies, claiming that DBOC was violating its NPS permit by illegally selling condiments in violation of his Special Use Permit, thus becoming a restaurant!  Locally, this became known as the “illegal catsup complaint”.

The letter was addressed to California Department of Fish and Game, Marin Department of Health Services, State Board of Equalization and Point Reyes National Seashore. Bennett bases his complaint on the one-letter difference in spelling between complimentary (i.e. given for free) and complementary (i.e. adding to something), ignoring the fact that DBOC, by the specific terms of its NPS permit, was legally allowed to sell the produce of the family’s adjoining ranch.  (The complaints about the shellfish are dealt with here.) This is just one example of Bennett poring over reams of documents in an attempt to find some supposed glitch in language or definition to cause trouble for the Lunnys.

Bennett’s LinkedIn page shows that he ceased to serve as a Sierra Club chairperson in March 2011. The Sierra Club has declined to made any statements regarding his removal, but Congressman Pete McCloskey, author of the endangered-species act and supporter of the oyster farm, informed the Russian River Times that he had been told by the executive director of the Sierra Club that Bennett had been ‘fired.’

Bennett resurfaced with Neil Desai of NPCA, co-signing an August 16 2011 complaint to the Coastal Commission, in which Bennett signs as President of Save Our Seashore. The letter makes unsubstantiated statements like”…their oyster operations within the Estero are considered unmanageable by many in the public”, and “chronic lateral channel inclusions which can include amongst other things, humans, boats and loud music, which can prevent seals from using what would otherwise be suitable habitat.” These are not ‘facts,’ but allegations, none of which were accurate.

Investigation of Bennett’s involvement leads to reports in the Nation of an amazingly revelatory discussion with Tess Elliot and Kevin Lunny, wherein Bennett candidly admits to lying. The conversation is included in letters to the editor about Elliot’s September 9, 2008 Nation article, entitled “Scientific Integrity Lost in America’s Parks” Here are the key excerpts:  “Bennett made several confessions during our post-show chat. (Listen to the KQED program with Senator Feinstein, Gordon Bennett, Tess Elliot and others here) “The park knew it had no evidence when it made those charges,” he said, excusing his own malfeasance of lying to a 50,000-strong audience. He had also claimed that the Point Reyes Wilderness Act mandated the oyster farm’s removal in 2012. “You know the Wilderness Act says nothing about 2012,” I said. Again, Bennett acknowledged misleading listeners. “If you know these claims are false, why don’t you remove them from your website?” I asked. “The other side spreads misinformation, too,” he replied. I shamed Bennett for attaching the Sierra Club’s name to his false claims. He replied that he did so as a buffer against lawsuit. 

Bennett’s LinkedIn page also claims that he has been President of Save Our Seashore, which he claims has existed since 1994, yet he has not released any information about to the public about the structure of his organization. Perhaps not coincidentally, Save Our Seashore is the name of an organization formed in 1994 by the late Peter Behr, one of the true founders of Point Reyes National Seashore, who did much in creation of the pastoral zone that protected the ranches and oyster farm and brought them into the park. Here is a 1969 TV interview with Behr regarding the Seashore, and on his views about environmental campaigning.

National Parks Conservation Association’s Neil Desai, is also a key player and founder of the SaveDrakesBay coalition website, since taken down and parked on GoDaddy.com, replaced with yet another site. His participation in the smear campaign was previously documented in the Russian River Times, involving nationally released false statements, doctoring photographs and making allegations that he knew to be misleading.  Desai nationally distributed false information to deliberately distort public comments on the NPS EIS, authoring a notice that claimed four species at Drakes Estero, including the harbor seal, were endangered.  According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, a sister agency to NPS, none were endangered (or even threatened).

He has worked closely with Amy Trainer, current EAC director who replaced Fred Smith after the start of the anti-Lunny campaign who herself has originated many of the misleading statements, such as this recent patently false claim that the Lunnys are making millions from the oyster company.

That campaign in many ways resembles the worst of the California initiative politics. This is not surprising, given the involvement of Jerry Meral, whose LinkedIn page not only shows his role with EAC, but that he ‘managed’ the former EAC executive director, Fred Smith. It also displays his well-known relationship with other environmental groups, specifically his role as executive director of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL).  Meral resigned his position in 2002 after the defeat of Proposition 51. He then became active in local politics and with the EAC, contemporaneous with the start of their campaign against Drakes Estero.

 A blunt editorial in the December 5, 2002 Sacramento Bee documents Meral’s methods: finding a cause, assembling a coalition, claiming to be protecting the public’s rights, and logrolling the various factions involved while seeking funding to drive publicity and enact the deal.

The editorial closes: ”Meral always argued that the ends justified his means. But (in the case of Prop. 51) the voters weren’t buying. When the questionable means come to overshadow the ends, maybe it’s time to retire the method, too.”

When journalists fail to ask basic questions before reporting on a story based on press releases from advocacy groups, they do little to inform the public, and contribute greatly to polarization. Journalism is not sticking a microphone in someones face and reading press releases. It is facts, documents and history and informed questions. The job of journalism is to make sure it is not being spun, and to inform, not incite.  Tell the public the facts and what you have found out about ‘Who? What? When? Where? Why?’

Editors Note:

We are including in the on line version of the article the full text of the Elliot letter in the Nation, and would point out that the article and its letters, including those from then Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and Dr. Laura Watt of Sonoma State, who wrote her PHD thesis on the working landscapes of Point Reyes, are well worth reading.  The editors removed Gordon Bennett’s response to Elliot because of factual errors.

 You may read all of the Russian River Times reporting on the estero here.

Nation Web Letter

I once shared a homemade Pugliese tart with Gordon Bennett in a Starbucks in San Francisco. We had been guests on a show on public radio, along with Kevin Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Bennett had made several claims that I knew were false. As we exited the sound room, I suggested we keep chatting, and over slices of pastry I had packed in my purse, I asked Bennett how he could lie on air.

Speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, Bennett alleged that Lunny’s oyster farm was a menace to seals and eelgrass. Each of us knew these claims were debunked in a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that the park had misrepresented its own data. There was no evidence supporting the claims that the park and Bennett had levied against Lunny for over two years. The academy report brought to light what many suspected: a campaign to portray the farm as a threat, and justify its closure.

Bennett made several confessions during our post-show chat. “The park knew it had no evidence when it made those charges,” he said, excusing his own malfeasance of lying to a 50,000-strong audience. He had also claimed that the Point Reyes Wilderness Act mandated the oyster farm’s removal in 2012. “You know the Wilderness Act says nothing about 2012,” I said. Again, Bennett acknowledged misleading listeners.

“If you know these claims are false, why don’t you remove them from your website?” I asked. “The other side spreads misinformation, too,” he replied. I shamed Bennett for attaching the Sierra Club’s name to his false claims. He replied that he did so as a buffer against lawsuit. “Why don’t you just tell the truth?” Lunny asked. “Then you won’t get sued.”

Bennett was quiet. I had an epiphany. This man, whose reckless behavior has shaped the Drakes Estero debate, does not hesitate to use the power of his title to mislead the public. For him, the end justifies the means. As he put it to me that day, wilderness is like a church. Bennett pursues his wilderness-church with religious zeal. When I wrote the article for The Nation I expected a response from Bennett–but the angry and libelous tone of his letter alarmed me. It is impossible to rebut the numerous false statements in this space, so I will pick only a few.

On May 5, the National Academy of Sciences announced that a Point Reyes National Seashore report “selectively presented, over-interpreted and misrepresented” studies of the oyster farm’s ecological effects. That day, Jon Jarvis told the press that he thanked the academy for agreeing with his conclusions. What on earth did he mean? The report explicitly dismissed his conclusions. Later I discovered that Jarvis had given the academy a corrected version of the park report, but had neglected to make this version public. The older versions of the report–each containing claims of harm–kept circulating, while the corrected version remained hidden. So Jarvis was pleased that the academy agreed with his secret retractions. But Jarvis did not stop there. “We agree with some conclusions in the academy report, and disagree with others,” he said. Everyone was confused. The academy had dismissed each of the park’s claims, and Jarvis’s only challenge was a tangential point that was not even in the academy’s charter, concerning whether or not native oysters existed in Drakes Estero and therefore influenced its historic baseline ecology. Jarvis said they did not. Yet the waterside shed where Lunny sells his oysters is a stone’s throw from a gigantic midden, a heap of shells left as proof that native peoples enjoyed the estero’s salty bounty.

In his letter, Bennett makes an outlandish reversal, claiming it is the academy–not the park service–that “selectively presented, over-interpreted and misrepresented” evidence. His proof? A two-page explanation written by a man with a math degree from the University of Pennsylvania that is so flawed it is laughable.

Meanwhile, he attacks Goodman, the biologist who uncovered the park service’s misuse of data. Bennett claims Goodman is not a biologist. In fact, Goodman graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a BS in biology, earned his PhD in zoology, with a specialty in neurobiology, from UC Berkeley, and was a tenured professor at both of those schools for twenty-five years. He is a former chair of the life sciences board for the National Academy of Sciences. Each of Goodman’s allegations was borne out by the academy’s report.

Readers must decide whether Bennett’s claims hold water. Readers must decide who is making ad hominem attacks. I have suggested that Jarvis, now approved by the Senate for directorship of the National Park Service, has shown disregard for science. His loyalty to the troops trumps his loyalty to the truth.

Tess Elliott

Bolinas, CA

Oct 4 2009 – 2:14pm

 

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