“Th[e] photo—recently obtained from government sources outside the National Park Service (NPS)—provides key evidence that the NPS deceived the public and concealed key data in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on DBOC. ”
Every picture tells a story
by Dr. Corey Goodman
A government photograph taken during the course of a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acoustic study at Point Reyes shows an unobstructed view from an FAA microphone along theshore ofDrakes Esteroto a Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) oyster boat. Th[e] photo—recently obtained from government sources outside the National Park Service (NPS)—provides key evidence that the NPS deceived the public and concealed key data in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on DBOC. Understanding the important of this photo—and how it contradicts the DEIS—requires some context.
Since 2007, NPS officials have repeatedly told the community that oyster boats were disturbing harbor seals in Drakes Estero. Yet the claim fell by the wayside after the discovery of secret NPS cameras in 2010; the 281,000 photos and detailed logs showed no disturbances. From 2007 to 2010, NPS failed to reveal a large body of data that contradicted their public claims.
In 2011, a new claim of impact emerged in the DEIS: Noise from oyster boats and equipment disturbs seals and other wildlife. The NPS did not make noise an issue in the 2007 Drakes Estero Report, the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report, the 2011 Frost Report, or the 2011 Marine Mammal Commission Report. Suddenly in September 2011, noise was not just an issue—it became the major source of disturbance, and drove the only two “major” impacts listed in the DEIS.
These noise measurements, however, did not come from Drakes Estero, as required by NPS rules and regulations, but rather came from a 1995 study on jet skis and other loud, fast boats off theNew Jerseyshore, and from a federal guide to noisy highway construction equipment.
Not only were the numbers used for the boats and equipment much too high, but the numbers used to represent ambient (background) noise levels were much too low, exaggerating the spread between them—and the distance required for the sound to dissipate—by miles. The NPS used a standard, the “lowest daily ambient level,” which was not found in the FAA study cited in the DEIS and which NPS did not use in other environmental impact reports.
Here are three tests you can do. First, do a Google search with the correct ambient noise standard (called “Leq”) and you will get over 800,000 hits. Now do the same search with “lowest daily ambient level” and (except for my critique of the DEIS) you will get no hits. This standard doesn’t exist. The NPS made it up.
Now conduct the second test. Go out to the oyster farm and ask them to turn on the “oyster tumbler.” It has a one-quarter horse power, 12-volt electric motor. The DEIS says that the oyster tumbler generates 79 decibels of noise at 50 feet, and can be heard for 2.4 miles. If you happen to have a sound meter, measure it for yourself. If you don’t, ask Ginny or Brigid Lunny at the farm if you may borrow their Radio Shack meter, and measure it yourself (you can see the photo of such a recording in John Hulls’s May 16 article in the Russian River Times).
Here is a third test. Start walking away from the oyster tumbler. You won’t need hiking boots. You won’t make it back to your car before you won’t be able to hear the oyster tumbler. Will you get 2.4 miles? Hardly. More like 100 feet.
How did the NPS get it so wrong? Was this intentional? What if we learned—as we did with the photos in the summer of 2010—that NPS had data showing that they were wrong, but concealed those data?
In July 2009, the NPS had FAA scientists place a microphone on theshoreofDrakes Estero, right next to the secret cameras. If the claims in the DEIS are correct, then the microphone should have easily picked up the noise from the oyster boats at the west end of the lateral channel.
Analysis of these audio recordings, however, reveals that the microphone did not record the oyster boats at the west end of the lateral channel. The NPS failed to disclose these data in the DEIS.
How did the NPS explain the microphone in the DEIS? In two sentences, the NPS dismissed the microphone, saying the bluff along the shore obstructed the sound path from boat to microphone.
That is why this government photograph is so important. It shows an unobstructed view—and sound path—from the microphone to an oyster boat. The NPS didn’t tell the truth in the DEIS.
The NPS knew the microphone was appropriately placed to record the oyster boats, but the boats could not be heard above the natural sounds of wind, waves, birds and bees—and kayakers and hikers. The data were clear, but the NPS concealed those data from us. No standards were violated. No harm occurred. No visitor experience was impaired.
So was the deception intentional? It sure looks that way.
The photograph can be viewed along with the column at ptreyeslight.com.