U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in a blistering letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, says the Point Reyes National Seashore staff has again "falsified" science to reach a desired conclusion on the fate of an oyster company operating there.
Specifically, the California Democrat, who long has supported the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.'s efforts to get an extension to its lease that runs out in November, says the Park Service relied on data collected by New Jersey State Police 17 years ago in describing noise from the oyster company's boats.
As proof the senator points to a June 2011 version of the seashore's draft Environmental Impact Statement on the oyster company's operations. In that document there's a table pertaining to "noise generation" from oyster company boats operating in Drakes Estero at Point Reyes. The table clearly states that the source for "sound estimations" came from New Jersey State Police tests on marine craft from 1995.
"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 company," wrote the senator in a letter (attached below) sent Thursday. "I can only attribute this conduct to an unwavering bias against the oyster company and historic ranches."
Park Service staff in Washington, D.C., would not comment on the senator's letter, saying they had not yet seen it, and that once it does arrive they would reply to her staff directly, not to the media. When asked specifically about the noise generation table in the DEIS that notes that data from New Jersey, not actual sound measured from oyster company boats in the estero, was used in the DEIS, Park Service spokesman David Barna said, "These allegations will be reviewed under the standard procedures contained in DOI's scientific integrity policy."
The fracas around the oyster company has been going on for years. The lease it holds to operate in the estero ends in November. If the lease is not renewed, the Park Service will work towards seeing the estero designated as official wilderness, a move previously directed by Congress.
Sen. Feinstein and other proponents of the oyster company, though, have been lobbying the Park Service to extend the company's lease. As part of that campaign, they have pointed out flaws in seashore studies into the impacts of the oyster farm.
The Park Service's handling of the matter has been both contentious and embarrassing for the agency. While an earlier Park Service report on the oyster operation concluded that it was impacting harbor seals, that report at times has withered under scrutiny. In 2009 the National Research Council said the NPS report was skewed, "selectively" manipulated in several areas, and inconclusive overall.
Appreciative of the outside scrutiny, the Park Service had an outside consultant review the seashore's DEIS on the oyster farm. Earlier this month that peer-review report was released. In it the consultants said the DEIS was not perfect, but that it was an "adequate analysis" in light of the "available scientific information."
"Overall, the reviewers found the analyses to be appropriate, and that there is no fundamental flaw with the larger scientific underpinning of the DEIS," noted the evaluation prepared by Atkins North America. "The identified scientific misinterpretations, or lack of citation of appropriate literature are for the most part minor, and can be rectified if the NPS so wishes. This may also include making some additional adjustments to interpretation, and explicit acknowledgement of the lack of information on some key issues."
In her letter to Secretary Salazar, Sen. Feinstein said the staff at Point Reyes National Seashore has time and again misrepresented and even "falsified" data in its analyses.
"My attention was drawn to the Seashore when I fought to extend local ranching leases from 5 to 10 years so there would be sufficient investment and time for the farmers and ranchers to not only operate viable businesses, but to perform environmental improvements," she wrote.
"Despite efforts to comply, the ranches and oyster farm have been subject to repeated mistreatment that is unbecoming of your Department," the senator continued. "The Park Service has falsified and misrepresented data, hidden science and even promoted employees who knew about the falsehoods all in an effort to advance a predetermined outcome against the oyster farm.
"Using 17-year-old data from New Jersey jet skis as documentation of noise from oyster boat engines in the estuary is incomprehensible. It is my belief that the case against Drakes Bay Oyster Co. is deceptive and potentially fraudulent."