Do David Bernhardt, the newly Senate-confirmed Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Rob Wallace, the just-nominated Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, or Danny Smith the Acting Director for National Park Service (NPS) have the slightest clue as to what has been going on at Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS)? Recent events reveal that they don’t. Is NPS at Point Reyes working overtime to make certain they never find out?
Muldoon, NPS co-chair of Safety Leadership Council reappointed despite questionable safety track record. In a 28 March 2019 e-mail to all NPS employees, Acting NPS Director Smith re-appointed Cecily Muldoon, Superintendent, PRNS, to a second term on the NPS Safety Leadership Council (SLC) where she will serve as Co-Director. Initially formed in 2007 by then-NPS Director Mary Bomar, it was implemented under NPS Executive Order #50, which expressly states, “We hold that the safety and health of our employees, concessioner employees and other Federal, state and local stakeholders….to be a core value of the NPS.”
The order sets forth that NPS managers across the country must “Meet or exceed all current applicable statutory, regulatory, and policy requirements”.
Did Muldoon herself follow the safety guidelines she was appointed to implement? Many of the requirements of the SLC fall under OSHA, (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Department of Labor, EPA and other federal and state agencies, so one might expect that given her position on the Safety Council, that her supervision of PRNS employees and contractors “meets or exceeds” compliance with law, policy, and procedures. It doesn’t. Muldoon’s actual track record is a long list and large collection of safety violations, safety problems and safety misconduct.
Investigation by Cal EPA at Drakes Estero leads to referral of charges to Marin DA for prosecution. For more than two years, the Russian River Times documented a whistleblower’s report of serial failures by NPS and its contractors to comply with NPS safety law, policy and procedures during removal of oyster racks from Drakes Estero (Point Reyes). The whistleblower, a marine diver, filed a complaint with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) after he received chemical burns from exposure to hazardous wastes while working on the rack removal project. In mid-2018, DTSC opened an investigation. Last December, DTSC completed their work concluding that wide-spread mismanagement of toxic materials took place on the NPS project. The Report, not yet public, was submitted to Lori Frugoli, the Marin County District Attorney. It recommends prosecution for more than 20 violations of law, some criminal, against the NPS contractors.
Whistleblower recovers back pay and contractor fined by OSHA Previously, the Russian River Times reported on other violations of law on the same NPS project. Contract violations, investigated by the US Department of Labor concluded the whistleblower and others were shorted on pay and that significant safety violations occurred. That same whistleblower, with assistance from the Foundation for Fair Contracting (FFC), received a settlement restoring his rightful pay. In addition, in December 2016, shortly after the whistleblower was fired, the contractor on the Drakes Estero Project was fined for OSHA safety violations.
No bid contracts can be “totally non-transparent” and subject to abuse. The FFC’s Bryan Berthiaume recently discussed with the Russian River Times a growing list of problems with no-bid and non-competitive contacts awarded by the Federal Government. The long list of safety violations at Point Reyes came from a no-bid, non-competitive contract. Berthiaume also told the RR Times that his organization is actively following another scandal involving this same NPS contract. The California State Contractor’s Licensing Board investigation of the Drake’s Estero rack removal contractor regarding serious violations of personnel requirements for holding their license. He also stated, generally, that the proliferation of contracts issued without competitive bidding continues to become a real scandal, and renders much government contracting totally non-transparent. This has certainly proved the case in the RR Times investigation, which has been unable to trace the handling and fate of some 1300 tons, or approximately 76 truckloads, of contaminated sediment identified in the original NPS engineering Report for this project, despite repeated requests to NPS.
According to Berthiaume, “ we’re seeing a lot of problems with many case of near total lack of supervision of some contractors, especially in the under $4-5 million range. Being perceived as a ‘compliant’ contractor on these issues can lead to multiple contract awards and too often becomes ‘the gift of public money that keeps on giving’. While FFC’s work is involved mostly with labor and contracting terms, we see a huge problem on some contracts with the issuing agencies failure to not only assure compliance with labor law and safety law, but also environmental issues or even basic compliance with contract terms, as is the case in working with the whistleblower in the Drake’s Estero matter. This is not a partisan issue and it’s going to take Congress having a serious look at how DOI and other agencies really handle their contracts to even start to fix it.”
City of San Francisco complains to Superintendent Muldoon over lack of concern for public safety Upholding NPS policy on public safety also appeared low on Muldoon’s priorities when she was temporary Acting Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA), after she approved a protest permit for a group and its members who were known to be violent in Portland, Seattle and Charlottesville. In an angry August 15, 2017 letter from then SF Mayor the late Edwin M. Lee, and Supervisor (now Mayor) London Breed, declared, “This permit has been granted without the necessary contingencies to protect the safety of the public and the assumption that the City of San Francisco will expend our resources to diffuse the situation”.
Safety violations, issues and concerns – a long list of them – are the hallmarks of Muldoon’s management at Point Reyes. NPS reports on toxics were withheld from the Corps of Engineers and subcontractor employees but not contractors. (direct worker notification of the presence of toxics is required by DOL law and OSHA regulations). Toxic wood waste and sediment were handled in a manner in direct violation of California law, not to mention contract terms. This allowed substantial time and financial savings for the contractor. Tons of sediment, which NPS’ own Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) said was contaminated, are unaccounted for. Complaints about workplace safety violations were ignored. FOIA requests about safety issues have been ignored, manipulated or not answered.
Real safety and fact-based environmental leadership needed at NPS. Muldoon’s re-appointment to the NPS Safety Leadership Council hardly inspires confidence inside NPS or for visitors to our National Parks. Under her leadership, the Wilderness at Point Reyes mismanaged toxic materials, some of which are still present on the public beaches at Drakes Estero. The NPS Director and the senior leadership at the Interior Department need to put a bright light on Superintendent’s record at Point Reyes. NPS needs more compliance with law, policy and procedures, not a growing stack of violations. Secretary Bernhard, the new Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Rob Wallace and Acting Director, NPS, Danny Smith need to find out what’s really going on at Point Reyes. Senator Murkowski, as Chair, the Senate Energy Committee and Congressman, Raul Grijalva, as Chair, House Natural Resources Committee need to put the same spotlight on NPS adherence to law, policy and procedure. Point Reyes is a good place to start illuminating the real quality of leadership.