03-27-12 Greenwire: NPS noise data for CA oyster farm based on 1995 study in NJ

“We have all heard the chorus from NPS supporters about noisy oyster boats disturbing wildlife in Drakes Estero,” Goodman wrote in the letter, adding that NPS and contracted employees “knew or should have known that NPS had no such acoustic data from Drakes Estero, and so data were substituted from a report done for the New Jersey State Police in 1995 including measurements from a loud Jet Ski along the New Jersey shores.”

He added: “Surely it is time to put a stop to this repeated pattern of deception. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money have been spent to deceive the public, and to fool you.”

Greenwire http://www.eenews.net/gw/
4. INTERIOR:
NPS noise data for Calif. oyster farm based on 1995 study in N.J.
Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From 50 feet away, an oyster tumbler at Drakes Bay Oyster Co. reaches 79 decibels, on par with a noisy urban neighborhood, according to the National Park Service.

That is far higher than the Park Service’s 60-decibel limit, and it supports the agency’s calls for the farm to cease operations at its current location in a California wilderness area.

But there’s one problem: NPS never measured the sound of the oyster tumbler — or any other equipment at the farm.

A table in the agency’s recent draft environmental impact statement appears to imply otherwise, adding another allegation of scientific misconduct to an issue that has been mired in controversy for years.

The farm has operated in Point Reyes National Seashore for a century, receiving an exemption when Congress designated the land as a wilderness area more than 40 years ago. But its lease is up this year, and the EIS has become the focus of a fierce debate over whether the farm disturbs surrounding flora and fauna.

Noise from the farm’s operations has become the latest lightning rod. Employees routinely use motorboats to collect harvests and tend to the oyster bags, while a few pieces of equipment use small engines. Environmental groups say that disturbs wildlife and visitors.

The Park Service tackles the issue in the draft EIS, producing a table titled “Noise Generators at DBOC” that cites sound levels ranging from 71 decibels to 85 decibels. The report then refers to those numbers to conclude that noise from the farm “would result in long-term unavoidable adverse impacts on wildlife such as birds and harbor seals and visitor experience and recreation.”

But none of those numbers are measurements of the farm’s equipment. Instead, NPS used a 17-year-old study from Noise Unlimited on the New Jersey Police Department and a 2006 “Construction Noise Users Guide” from the Federal Highway Administration.

Then officials removed all language that made it clear the numbers were estimates.

A June 2011 internal version of the EIS shows a table with clear citations; three months later, Interior released a public draft that, among other things, referred to the sound levels as “representative” rather than “estimated.”

The National Park Service removed language that made it clear the noise levels were estimates, as shown in scientist Corey Goodman’s comparison between an internal June 2011 version and the September 2011 public draft. Click for a larger version. Graphic courtesy of Corey Goodman.

The comparisons can be a stretch. For the oyster tumbler, for example, NPS appears to have used one of five pieces of equipment listed in the 2006 user’s guide: a concrete mixer truck, a drill rig truck, a front end loader, a rivet buster or a ventilation fan.

The sound level for the farm’s motorboats matches up with the measurement of a 1995 Kawasaki Jet Ski in the Noise Unlimited study. The two have different engines; among other differences, the motorboats run at most on 40-horsepower engines, while the Jet Ski was fitted with a 70-horsepower engine.

Corey Goodman — a scientist who has long criticized NPS for its research on the farm — contends the agency knowingly misled the public. In a letter sent yesterday, he asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate possible scientific misconduct.

“We have all heard the chorus from NPS supporters about noisy oyster boats disturbing wildlife in Drakes Estero,” Goodman wrote in the letter, adding that NPS and contracted employees “knew or should have known that NPS had no such acoustic data from Drakes Estero, and so data were substituted from a report done for the New Jersey State Police in 1995 including measurements from a loud Jet Ski along the New Jersey shores.”

He added: “Surely it is time to put a stop to this repeated pattern of deception. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money have been spent to deceive the public, and to fool you.”

Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher declined to comment on the details but said Goodman’s allegations “will be reviewed under the standard procedures contained in DOI’s scientific integrity policy.”

Problems with peer review
It is the latest headache for Interior in the controversy over NPS research on the California oyster farm.

Congress has already ordered a review from the National Academy of Sciences on whether the EIS has a “solid scientific foundation.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also has criticized the conclusions of the EIS, questioning whether research supports the EIS contention that the farm disturbs nearby harbor seals — and pointing out that there is no indication of negative impacts on fish protected by the Endangered Species Act or on “essential fish habitat” (Greenwire, Jan. 11).

Last week, ostensibly to combat such criticism, Interior released a peer review it commissioned. That review — facilitated by consulting firm Atkins North America — concluded that the EIS had no “fundamental flaw” in its scientific underpinnings (Greenwire, March 19).

But one peer reviewer based at least part of his conclusions on a false premise.

Christopher Clark, a bioacoustics expert at Cornell University, confirmed to Greenwire that he believed the table in the draft EIS on the oyster farm’s sound levels “represented measurements taken from DBOC activities.”

Clark declined to comment further, but in his review he refers to the table in his assessment that the draft EIS is “robust.”

“I conclude that there is ample acoustic scientific evidence by which the DEIS can determine that DBOC noise-generating activities have negative impacts on both the human visitor experience and the seashore’s wildlife,” he wrote.

To the farm’s owner, that is enough to brand the peer review as “absolutely worthless.”

“Here I read a peer review citing and congratulating the Park Service on data that don’t exist,” said DBOC owner Kevin Lunny, who has fought for years to keep his farm in Point Reyes National Seashore. The EIS, he added, “is meant to go to decisionmakers, and I see something that couldn’t pass any test of honesty or integrity. Somebody is not being honest with somebody here.”

Lunny also questioned why Clark was not given a copy of a study DBOC commissioned on the noise of its equipment.

That study — completed by ENVIRON International Corp. — measured the sound levels as far lower than the estimates in the draft EIS. The oyster tumbler, for example, clocked in between 50 and 59 decibels, rather than the 79 in the draft EIS.

NPS did not get the measurements until after releasing the draft EIS, as ENVIRON submitted a report with the study results during the comment period. But Lunny contends that Clark should have gotten the information.

He also criticized the selection of another peer reviewer: Ted Grosholz, a professor from University of California, Davis. Grosholz was one of two peer reviewers who studied the sections of the draft EIS dealing with marine estuarine ecology and coastal zone management. Both found the scientific analyses in the draft EIS “reasonable,” though they pointed to some interpretations that were not supported by evidence.

Grosholz’s name has come up throughout the controversy over the farm’s future in Drakes Estero. In 2007, for example, he was one of more than a dozen scientists NPS asked to review the agency’s research on Drakes Bay Oyster Co., in response to Goodman’s criticism. He has also pursued research at the site, though he has not received funding for it.

In a recent interview, Grosholz said he made it “extremely clear with everyone what my background is” when he was asked to conduct the review. He conceded that he is well-acquainted with two NPS scientists — Ben Becker and Sarah Allen — who have been at the center of the controversy for their research on the farm’s affect on wildlife, particularly nearby harbor seals.

But he dismissed Lunny’s contention that he is biased, pointing to his past work with other shellfish companies. The situation, he said, is “difficult” on all sides.

“I tend to work across the spectrum,” Grosholz said. “It’s not correct to say I’m somehow in the hip pocket of the Park Service.”

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1 Comment

  1. Jill Nixa

     /  March 27, 2012

    My friends and I visited the Drake’s Bay Oyster farm a few weeks ago and truly considered a special place. Sitting by the water eating the freshest oysters around and enjoying the lovely vista was a highlight of our day! It was quiet and peaceful and the people were wonderful. What is there not to like about this company that hires locals, supplies fresh, not tainted,oysters and makes people want to return in the near future to support the local economy. seems like a local success story to me!
    Jill Nixa
    Old Snowmass, Colorado

    Reply

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