A Sampling of River News
Serious Mismanagement at Effigy Mounds
Recent actions of the National Park Service (NPS) have provoked the ire of a watchdog group that works with and defends government employees who become whistleblowers.
The 15-page “Serious Mismanagement Report, Effigy Mounds National Monument” is dated April 2014 and authored by four NPS employees, including David Barland-Liles, special agent; Jim Nepstad, Effigy Mounds National Monument (EFMO) superintendent; and Bob Palmer, EFMO chief ranger. The report chronicles mismanagement and numerous violations of laws and procedures enacted to protect archaeological sites and burial sites during the tenure, from 1999 to 2010, of EFMO superintendent Phyllis Ewing, who is identified in the report only as “the Principal.”
The 2,526-acre monument borders the Mississippi River between Harpers Ferry and Marquette, Iowa. The property protects 206 visible Indian mounds, 31 of which are in the shape of animals — mostly bears and birds. There are countless protected archaeological features, including burials, on the property that are not visible. The monument also has a small museum.
The Serious Mismanagement Report’s overview says that during Ewing’s tenure “… park staff failed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and/or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on at least 78 projects using $3,368,704 in federal funds.” These projects may have disturbed, damaged or destroyed many archaeological features, including burials. The report describes many of the incidents, a hostile work environment that led to key employees leaving EFMO and many times when NPS higher ups were made aware of the situation but did not act.
The report was circulated at some meetings, but was not shared with the public. On July 30, 2015, Tim Mason, a former NPS employee at Effigy Mounds National Monument and an activist working to protect American Indian sites, sent an email to Patty Trap, NPS deputy regional director, asking “… does there exist an internal report on the previous impacts at EFMO dated April, 2014?”
Trap replied, “Simply put, there is no such agency report.”
When Big River Magazine tried to contact Trap, she did not respond. When we contacted the Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent, Nepstad, he said that he was told to refer inquiries to Linda Friar, an NPS public affairs officer in Washington D.C. She explained that the April 2014 Serious Mismanagement Report is not an “official report” because it had not gone through certain agency procedures.
The process to create an official report is already underway. When complete, it will be made available to the public, according to Friar.
The email exchange between Mason and Trap provoked Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to issue a press release titled “Park Service Snoozes through Effigy Mounds ‘Wake Up Call,’” which calls the events from 1999 to 2010 at the monument “the largest official mass desecration of Indian pre-historic burial sites in the annals of the National Park Service” and accuses the NPS of suppressing the report.
The press release also includes links to the report and other documentation of investigations of the EFMO.
Where the Buoys Are
East Alton, Ill. — A network of water quality monitoring buoys is being launched on the Mississippi and other rivers by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) of East Alton. NGRREC is an organization of scholars and scientists dedicated to studying the ecology of the world’s great river systems.
Buoys were placed this spring in the Mississippi River near Alton, Ill.; Cape Girardeau, Mo.; and La Crosse, Wis. Buoys were previously placed near Stoddard, Wis., and in the Sangamon River. The effort supports the Great Lakes to Gulf Virtual Observatory, a downloadable web app that gives users access to water quality information. Users can select, view and compare information by river reach, by source and by watershed. The project will help set priorities about what data should be gathered to optimize large-scale conservation programs and to facilitate collaborations.
Visit the Great Lakes to Gulf website for more information and to download the app.
NGRREC is a partnership of Lewis and Clark Community College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.
From July-August News:
Classroom on the River
Minneapolis — In September, Augsburg College will send 20 students, faculty and staff downriver from Lake Itasca headed to the Gulf of Mexico in four voyageur canoes. The group will study environmental, biological and political subjects, and delve into individual research projects along the way. Students will also attend town hall meetings and meet with environmental organizations.
Old Lead in the Water
Dubuque, Iowa — A University of Dubuque student’s research confirms that Dubuque’s waterways continue to be affected by historic lead mining.
“The effects of mining are still existing, and they will forever be existing,” according to Kyle Leytem, a senior environmental science major who spent the summer of 2014 exploring Dubuque-area waterways measuring lead content. His research showed higher levels of lead in the Mississippi between Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa, than in other sections of the river.
Lead mining in Dubuque began on a small scale with the Native Americans and was a major source of income for settlers in the early and mid 1800s. At one time, an estimated 80 percent of Dubuque’s population mined lead. Early lead miner and historian Lucius H. Langworthy reported that between 40 and 60 million pounds of lead from Dubuque area mines were exported annually from 1833 to 1856.
Over time, lead mining and the after effects of abandoned mines caused dangerous metals to leach into nearby waterways. Leytem’s study of lead concentrations in Mississippi River pools 11 and 12, upriver and downriver from Lock and Dam 11, found higher lead concentrations in pool 12. Concentrations were especially high throughout and at the mouth of Catfish Creek, which feeds into the Mississippi south of Dubuque in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, an area noted for lead mining.
For more information, watch Leytem discuss his findings on a YouTube video “Concentration of Sedimentation: Effects of Mining within Streams.” (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 4-29-15)
Going the Length
Itasca, Minn. — Navy combat veteran Chris Ring stepped into the headwaters of the Mississippi River on June 6, with plans to swim its length. He began his 2,552-mile swim on the 71st anniversary of D-Day and expects to finish at the Gulf of Mexico on Veterans’ Day, November 11. Ring’s swim is part of a project called “Legacy Challenge: Swim for Their Sacrifice,” to bring together and honor the sacrifice of people who have lost family members to war. For more information visit the Legacies website.
Swimming the length of the river is uncommon — many more people paddle a canoe or kayak — but Ring is not the first to do it. Professional marathon swimmer Martin Strel completed the swim in 2002 and performance artist Billy Curmano, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, swam it for two months every summer for ten years to spotlight ecological damage to the river. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6-8-15)
Meanwhile, 80-year-old Dale Sanders of Bartlett, Tenn., started on his own Headwaters-to-Gulf paddling trip on June 4. He’s paddling with a purpose — to bring awareness to and raise money for juvenile diabetes. Sanders’ grandniece has the disease. Two cameramen and a 70-year-old friend are accompanying him.
Sanders said he was a competitive spear fisherman back in the 1960s and hasn’t done anything significant since. He aims to paddle the river in 80 days and capture the record for oldest person to paddle the whole river. (Fargo Valley News Live.com, 5-21-15)
New River Trail
Hastings, Minn. — A new section of recreational trail in Spring Lake Park Preserve is under construction. The 4.3-mile, $8.9-million Spring Lake Regional Trail from eastern Rosemount through Nininger Township will include two bridges over ravines, scenic overlooks and prairie restorations. It will connect with the popular Schaar’s Bluff gathering center. The new section, which is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2016, is part of the Mississippi River Regional Trail linking St. Paul to Hastings, mostly along the river. Spring Lake is a Mississippi River backwater lake upstream of Lock and Dam 2 and Hastings.
“There’s a lot happening along the Mississippi River,” said John Mertens, senior planner with Dakota County. “We just finished the Swing Bridge trailhead and are just beginning the trail from Harriet Island to South St. Paul. By 2018 the whole trail from Harriet Island, in St. Paul, to Hastings will be complete. Meanwhile the city of Prescott [Wis.] will build a trail linking to Hastings.”
River News from May-June 2015
Faulty Wheel Derails Train
Galena, Ill. — A fiery oil-train derailment near the Mississippi River on March 5 was caused by a faulty wheel, according to Matt Rose, the CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.
Prepare to Evacuate
Canadian Pacific (CP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroads are making major investments to upgrade their tracks and connections in the Upper Mississippi River valley, in anticipation of a continued oil boom.
Paducah, Ky. — Commercial fishermen in Kentucky will be paid at least 15 cents a pound for Asian carp, thanks to a new subsidy from the state. Until now, some fish processors have paid just eight to 10 cents, not enough for fishermen to break even. The state will give tax incentives to at least three fisheries to process and market the carp to worldwide consumers.