The Interim Director of the Interior Inspector General, Mary Kendall, recently issued a report seemingly exonerating the National Park Service of scientific misconduct during their recently abandoned Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) on Drakes Estero. The original complaint to the IG centered around the NPS’ ‘importation’ of data. NPS used data from a 75 hp. 2 stroke Kawasaki Jet Ski measured in 1995 rather than actually measuring the Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s (DBOC) late model 20 HP 4 stroke outboards, as required by NPS policy. The reports finding of no misconduct, validating NPS and its consultant’s ‘science’, has played a key role in NPS court actions regarding DBOC, who were seeking injunctive relief against the closure of the oyster farm, which was granted on appeal to the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on 25 February. The court found that “there are serious legal questions and the balance of hardships tips sharply” in the farm’s favor.
This earlier Russian River Times graphic shows the effect of the use of the imported data vs. measured data, which the IG failed to investigate. It expands the sound footprint to cover virtually all of the seal haul out sites in the entire Estero. The values in this graphic are corroborated by the recordings from the FAA/NPS Volpe microphone, cited in the NPS DEIS, which did not pick up the sounds which would have been produced had the imported data been correct, but did pick up the actual sounds when the DBOC boat passed by in the channel immediately to the left of the microphone, substantiating the data analysis in Dr. Goodman’s complaint. (Click image to expand)
The Russian River Times examined this most recent investigation by looking at a key claim of the source of the data, which can be found on page 10 of the IG report. The IG Report states: “VHB’s acoustics representative and director of Air Quality and Noise Services spoke with us regarding the sound-level data used in the DEIS. He informed us that he possessed more than 40 years of sound and acoustics experience and that he was the project technical advisor for the DEIS and reviewed its soundscape sections for accuracy. He stated that during his research for this project, he personally located the NU 1995 report on the Internet and subsequently selected the watercraft measurements from the NU report to represent Company boats, which was based on information collected by VHB staff members during Company site tours.”
It would seem that, given the claims about the Internet being the source of the data, the IG would have at least done its own confirmatory web search and published the web link for the data. However, there is no such website accessible to a public search, though this does not preclude that the data may have been blocked against public search engines, a tactic the NPS has used in the past in reports on Drake’s Estero. In fact, DBOC itself found the data after requesting the information from both Noise Unlimited and the New Jersey State Police, who no longer had the report. It was eventually provided by the Personal Watercraft Association, who played a key role in NPS activities on boat and jet ski or Personal Water Craft (PWC) noises, dating back to as early as 1994.
One of the key factors in most investigations would be to determine the chain of command in the matter, something on which the IG report is silent. However, the Russian River Times had no problem in locating the appropriate document, the Department of the Interior Department Manual, Chapter 12 , which clearly identifies the NPS Environmental Compliance Division as the source of and focal point for all matters relating to National Environmental Policy Act, and provides guidelines on EIS and Environmental Assessment (EA) actions. This point is significant, as Jake Hoogland, formerly in charge of the NPS Environmental Compliance Division, and now in charge of NPS matters for VHB, was part of the team that visited Drakes Estero, and was therefore aware of all matters relating to NEPA.
It appears from the report that the IG made no attempt to investigate the sources or rational case for selection of the PWC data, as protested by Dr. Goodman (the source of the complaint in the IG report) which would have lead them to the Personal Watercraft Association, whose director was interviewed by the Russian River Times for an earlier column in which the director stated that his organization had worked extensively on sound issues with the NPS and “there is no controversy over the methods used to test for boat sound, which are well known to state and federal regulators,” and went on to state that they are used for law enforcement and follow established sound standards. Once again, the IG report makes no reference to the actual standards of measurement, but unquestioningly accepts the NPS claims at face value.
If the IG had done meaningful investigation, it would then have lead them to the Bluewater v. Kempthorne (now v. Salazar) case, leading back to the original April 2000 NPS rulemaking on PWCs. Equally significant, if the IG had then examined NPS involvement, they would have found that Hoogland, both in his role as chief of NPS ECD and as a representative of VHB, had written extensively on the matters of such lawsuits and their impact on policy, including a presentation to the George Wright Society in 2011, clearly demonstrating NPS and Hoogland’s long involvement with boat sound matters. (Abstract attached at end of article.)
The court action lead the Russian River Times investigation to the 2004 Gulf Islands EA, Personal Watercraft Use Environmental Assessment report examined by the Court in Bluewater v. Salazar and, on p253, located the reference to the Noise Unlimited report, but with no web link. (The bibliography also lists numerous data sources for boat and PWC noise including links to the Personal Watercraft Association) However, the Court dealt with the NPS EA document harshly, stating in its 2010 ruling that NPS’ EA was: “conclusory, internally inconsistent and failed to adequately explain the connection between objective facts and the conclusion reached” and the determination of the level of impacts considered in the various options are “profoundly flawed” and that “While the Court will defer to an agency’s exercise of expertise, the `Court will not defer to the agency’s conclusory or unsupported assertions.’
What is particularly interesting is to compare the 2004 Gulf Islands EA with the Drakes Estero EIS. In the Gulf case, NPS argues that the modern advances in PWC sound and pollution justified allowing them to operate in areas of pristine beaches which is also the home to many threatened, endangered and special interest species, (see US Fish and Wildlife comments p230,) whereas in the Drake’s Estero case, NPS argues the exact opposite, make conclusory statements that the low horsepower DBOC boats are causing harm.
More importantly, the Gulf EA clearly shows that NPS knew it had no credible scientific basis for importing the 1995 PWC data (two stroke 75 h.p. at full throttle) and presenting it in the Drakes Estero EA as if it were representative of the current much quieter current DBOC boat data (four stroke at 20 h.p.). The IG utterly failed to address the dramatically misleading effects caused by this exaggeration even after they cited a report where the previous IG found, in an almost identical level of exaggeration, that a Point Reyes National Seashore scientist had deliberately misquoting a USGS report on sediment from oysters in Drakes Estero and importing old data from a Japanese oyster farm and presenting it as if the data had been collected in Drake’s Estero.
The nature of the Court’s conclusions in Bluewater, that it failed “to explain the connection between objective facts and the conclusion reached”, generally mirror the nature of the complaints made by Dr. Goodman to the IG. In light of the recent 21 February 2013 House Resource Committee report ‘Holding Interior Watchdog Accountable’, which claims failure to properly investigate complaints and to fulfill it’s watchdog role, the Times is left with two options to explain the IG’s failure to uncover any of the damning evidence found by the Times. Either (1) the IG investigation is incompetent, and they merely took the NPS responses on their face with no proper investigation, or (2) the final IG report simply omits information that would be damaging to the NPS and the Department of the Interior, and that Interim IG Mary Kendall, as the committee implies, has essentially abandoned her watchdog responsibility.
The recent Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) survey, ‘Rising Doubts on Independence of Interior Inspector General’, which indicated that 40% of IG employees do not believe the IG to be fulfilling its investigative role, would indicate the latter. As one respondent to the survey put so clearly, “Wake up and quit trying to ‘get approval’ from DOI [Interior]…we have a job to do.” Otherwise, the IG report will stand as just another in a long line of NPS and DOI investigations of themselves, costing the taxpayers literally millions of dollars, that are nothing more than whitewash and cover-up.
Footnote: Jeff Hoogland/VHB 2011 George Wright presentation abstract
Potato Chips or Pornography: Defining Impairment for the National Parks
Jacob J. Hoogland, NPS Market Leader, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc (VHB), Williamsburg, VA
While the “no impairment” mandate of the National Park Service Organic Act has been in effect since its enactment in 1916, it is only recently that Federal Courts have turned their attention to the interpretation of what that phrase means. Recent cases dealing with both snowmobile operation and personal watercraft use within units of the National Park System have added to the case law on this topic. This paper examines the relationship between the roles of law, policy and science in determining when impairment occurs. The roles of science and regulation in interpretation and applying the standard are compared and evaluated.” (emphasis added)