Cape Hatteras Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray said yesterday at a meeting with reporters that the National Park Service received 31,000 public comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for off-road vehicle rulemaking.
He said about 15,000 of those comments sent by individuals have been accepted by the Park Service and are being catalogued and organized.
Another 16,000 comments, he said, were not accepted, mostly because they were considered bulk e-mails or comments submitted through a third party.
The ground rules for submitting public comment were clear.
Comments would be accepted only by posting on the Park Service?s planning website or in a letter sent by mail (the old-fashioned kind) or delivered to Murray.
The rules stated that comments would not be accepted by fax, e-mail, or in any other way than those specified. They went on to say that bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.
In other words, no comments would be accepted if submitted by a third party.
Murray said most of the e-mails thrown out were submitted by organizations or groups that asked supporters to ?submit your comments to us and we will submit them en masse.?
Murray would not name any of the organizations. He did say that the 16,000 e-mails came from ?a very few organizations.?
Obviously, that means that some group or groups out there sent a big bunch of third-party e-mails.
The superintendent has said since the DEIS was issued in early March that he and other Park Service personnel could not comment on any of the specifics until the Final Environmental Impact statement is released in the fall.
At that time all comments will be public and will be addressed by the NPS.
Murray would say only that there were ?many comments? that supported a less restrictive option than Alternative F, the Park Service?s preferred alternative, and ?many comments? that supported a more restrictive approach.
The next step in the process should be the publication of the Park Service?s proposed rule for ORV regulation.
The release of the proposed rule is targeted for fall, and its publication will set in motion another 60-day public comment period. That will be the last opportunity for the public to comment on the future of beach access on the seashore.
There will be no public comment period when the FEIS is released, also scheduled for the fall.
The proposed rule, Murray said, will reference the Environmental Impact Statement. However, he said, the focus of the rule will be the regulatory language that is directly related to ORV use. Resource management issues, such as buffers, will be addressed only in the EIS. The proposed rule will address such ORV-specific issues as night driving.
The regulation of pets, horses, beach fires, and kites already exists in the superintendent?s compendium of seashore rules. They will not be in the special rule.
?If the final decision is to change any of the existing restrictions on those non-ORV issues,? Murray said, ?it would be done by revising the compendium.?
The proposed rule, Murray said, is being drafted and must undergo ?different layers? of review, including the federal Office of Management and Budget, which has 60 to 90 days to comment.
It seems strange to some that the rule is being drafted before the Park Service can digest public comments on the DEIS. No says, says Murray, noting that the rule will address ORV-specific regulations only, will be based on the preferred Alternative F, and will be put out for 60 days of public comment.
The publication of the FEIS is followed by a 30-day waiting period before a record of decision is issued.
The next step will be the final ORV regulation (based on the proposed rule after public comment). That is also followed by a 30-day waiting period, which is not a public comment opportunity. It is to notify those who are affected by the regulations.
Murray emphasized that the record of decision is the final decision on the Environmental Impact Statement, while the final rule is the final decision on ORV regulation.
The consent decree, signed off on by a federal judge on April 30, 2008 to settle the lawsuit against NPS by environmental groups, specifies that the record of decision must be issued by Dec. 31, and the final regulation published by April 1 of next year.
Where the beach access issues goes from there is a big question mark.
There is an assumption among access advocates ? and some others — that the attempt at ORV rulemaking will end in the federal courts. In fact, it is beginning to look like both sides on the issue ? pro-access groups and environmental groups ? will sue over whatever is the National Park Service?s final rule.
Right now, the Park Service?s preferred alternative is not restrictive enough for environmental groups and too restrictive for access proponents.
Murray himself said recently about the EIS and regulation in National Parks Traveler magazine that he thinks?it?s likely to result in litigation.?
Yesterday, Murray likened the situation somewhat to the struggle in Yellowstone National Park, where he was assigned from 1992 until 1997, over the regulation of snowmobiles.
In both cases, he said, ?People have quite contrasting visions of managing the park.?
Those regulations at Yellowstone, he said, have been in continuous litigation since 1997. That is 13 years.
Now that is a sobering thought.
The Consent Decree cost almost a 1/2 million dollars for the County to try and fight. If this mess heads to litigation, then the ORV groups need not worry about it, because we will never be able to afford that type of battle. Especially, if it took 3 or 4 years to fight, not even going to consider 13 years as an option.
Not to mention. I am sure the 1st round or 2 will go before Judge Boyle.
I am also sure that the FEIS will stand during the time of litigation, which will have massive impacts on the County?s and ORV group?s budget.
However, at an estimated 4.1 million dollar budget shortfall. I doubt the County will be able to assist in this matter very much or at all.
Pretty grim outlook,Oh Really,but if audubon can sell Carova preserve land for funding then maybe we can up with something?
Please look at what the park service has done. They have effectively eliminated ver half of all comments submitted just based on thier OPINION they were bulk emails. The entire purpose of the comments were to add comments . they have just thrown over half of them away.
Hopefully they were all Derb Carters.
The instructions promulgated by NPS for comment submission clearly stated that e:mail comments would not be accepted. The only electronic way to submit was using the NPS on line site. Additionally the instructions clearly stated that bulk submissions on behalf of others by a 3rd party would not be accepted, regardless of how submitted.
So as I read Irene?s article, the comments discarded were the ones that were not correctly submitted.
My guess is most of those discarded were from environs because OBPA emphasized the submission groundrules at all workshops and NPS did the same at all public comment meetings, which were mostly attended by pro-access folks. In addition I know of no effort by any pro-access organization to gather comments from members that the org would submit on behalf of members.
I sure hope so Ted,
It would be a shame if our voices are not heard. I wonder if the raw comments will be made available under a FOIA request since it clearly ststed on the NPS web page that these comments were public and yu might not want to pt your personal information. I think it would be very elightening to be able to say the NPS was fair in thier process, which brings me to the 2nd point.
Will the NPS listen to the comments?
NPS has to address all legit comments in the FEIS in some manner.
Once the FEIS is released you should be able to FOIA all comments, including the discarded. Whether that would be useful might depend on whether the submitter asked for private info to be with held. If so you might not be able to tell exactly who /what org submitted a comment, although the comment itself might at least ID whether it was a pro or con access source.
If past practice holds true on comments, they would be made available for you to review at NPS Manteo Hdqtrs by making an appointment. I have done this in the past.
For example I was able to review the submissions of various groups trying to get on REG–NEG as well as public comments submitted pro and con on whether a person/group should be a member.
I?m not sure NPS is obligated to do this, but they have in the past. However, the volume has been no where near 30K comments. Maybe 2-400 at most in the past so not a big repro job for them.
?Will the NPS listen to the comments??
Yes. But, they will more then likely tweak a little bit in favor of the ORV groups, while tweaking a little bit in favor of the enviromentalists. This whole thing is a dog and pony show.
The NPS is setting everyone up to make it very hard for a Judge to go against the NPS and their final decision by giving the appearance of fair and balanced decision making.
If the enviromentalists or ORV groups think they will be able to sue over the FEIS and it will be an open and shut case, they are sadly mistaken.
Yet, the enviromentalists have proven they have alot more money and political power, so maybe it would be an open and shut lawsuit for them.
Enviro-organizations would not care that 16000 comments were rejected by NPS. They were happy to accept the additional contributions generated by the issue. A few more issues like this and they could pay their salaries and legal fees without selling off their sanctuary properties at depressed values . Greenies have developed a great track record on funding. P T Barnum was right : ? There is a sucker born every minute. ? BOB
NPS is obligated to consider all the comments submitted properly. That does not mean that they are required to refute/disprove all the comments that are not in agreement with their final conclusions, just that they show they ?considered?.
Lawsuit? I would bet almost any amount that they will occur.
The questions are what rules are used in the interim. There is no requirement that things continue status quo. Will they be a continuation of the consent decree? Will they be whatever rules the NPS decides to issue? Will they be the rules being used before the lawsuits and consent decree?
What rules would they use? First they would probably attempt to put in place the Final Rule that the NPS actually wanted. Barring that, they?d probably get the Lawsuit pressure to keep at the minimum the rules as proscribed by the current CD. You bet that open access won?t even be near the top of the list?even though Open Access process worked ever since Henry Ford built the first Dune Buggy?..
I?m sure Irene will get this out front but thought I?d put it here to start getting the word out on more details.
OBPA Stand in the Sand III. Details here