Tag Archives: NEPA

Understanding NEPA; EIS; and NAGPRA–Brevard Museum, Indian River Lagoon

Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.

My recent trip to Brevard County allowed me after thirty-three years to reconnect with Patty Meyers, a classmate from Martin County High School.  We both are “Tigers–Class of 1982!” Patty is now the director of the Brevard Museum in Cocoa. This trip helped me to understand NEPA, EISes, NAGPRA and other acronyms that give me a headache, but are good to know as they protect not only native peoples but the environment….I will try to tell a story to explain these acronyms and how they function.

-NEPA: NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; EIS: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NAGPRA: NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

As you have probably read, a lot is going on in Cocoa and Brevard County. Highway 528 was given as an easement by the state to “All Aboard Florida” from Orlando’s  Airport  to Port Canaveral (going over parts of the Indian River Lagoon); Port Canaveral will be expanded and deepened to meet the pressures of the Panama Canal; the Banana River lost 87% of its seagrasses between 2011 and 2013 and was connected to the UMEs or Unexplained Mortality Events of manatees, dolphins and pelicans near Melbourne; and NASA’s space industry is considering inviting a state-run commercial space market into its once “off-limits” Wildlife Refuge, as it is remaking itself…

WHEW! Can you say IMPACT? One way to understand impacts is to study the past….

Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)
Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)

The Brevard Museum features multiple aspects  of the “Brevard story” along the Indian River Lagoon: its native peoples, the pioneers, Merritt Island’s famed “Indian River Lagoon Citrus,” and the space program’s evolution at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

What stood out for me once I got there was realizing I had been there before with my husband Ed in 2005 to see the Windover Archeological site display. If this site were discovered today, there would be more protections in place…it is part of protecting the environment. Let me explain.

Windover, one of the most important archeological sites in North America, was discovered in 1984 while a contractor was building a subdivision in Titusville.  He stopped construction and even donated to help unearth the area. The remains of over 200 ancient people were unearthed and proved to be 7000-8000 years old!

The people had been interred in a bog and were “perfectly” preserved and many contained in tact brain tissue. Being able to study this on such a scale was a first.

Studying the site revealed the people were exceptionally skilled tool makers and hunters, moved with the seasons between the St Johns and Indian Rivers, and that they were a compassionate people caring for their elderly and young, and ritually/religiously burying their dead. They were not the “savages” that had often been portrayed in years past and they were thousands of years older than expected.

This site changed the world of archeology. As wonderful a discovery as it was, how would you feel if those people were your ancestors? Aren’t graves sacred ground?

(http://nbbd.com/godo/BrevardMuseum/WindoverPeople/index.html)

While Patty and I were having lunch, she told that in 1990 after the Windover site was discovered in 1984, a law called NAGPRA was enacted. NAGPRA stands for the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act” and is a United States federal law which falls under NEPA….

We know NEPA from our Treasure Coast fight with All Aboard Florida…

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was enacted in 1969, one of many legislative and executive responses to growing concern about the condition of the environment and about what human actions were doing to it. NEPA does two major things. First, it establishes national policy (U.S. government policy under NEPA) regarding the environment. Second, NEPA requires that agencies prepare a “detailed statement” of the environmental impacts of any “major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” (This “detailed statement” is known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This “detailed statement” requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American “cultural items” to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes . While these provisions do not apply to discoveries or excavations on private or state lands, the collection provisions of the Act may apply to Native American cultural items if they come under the control of an institution that receives federal funding. (–NAGPRA website)

So if Windover or a site anything like it were discovered or exists today, Native People would have a say in what happened to their ancestors and the site of their ancestors, should they wish….After studied, their ancestors would not be sitting on a shelf in Tallahassee…They would be reburied.

NAGPRA is part of NEPA and an EIS. —NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

Familiarity with these laws is really the only hope for our government not to mow down every sacred site, burial ground, and haven for endangered and protected species along our Indian River Lagoon Region. These laws apply right now to All Aboard Florida, Port Canaveral, and NASA’s and the state’s potential impact in the Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River of the Indian River Lagoon, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 

Without these laws it would be like pioneer times, rough and wild with “no laws.” The “environment” and the people who once lived in harmony with it would basically have no protections.

NEPA, EIS and NAGPRA are “letters” all River Warriors should know!

NEPA: (https://ceq.doe.gov)
EIS: (https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/projdev/docueis.asp)
NAGPRA (http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Graves_Protection_and_Repatriation_Act)

Brevard Museum:(http://myfloridahistory.org/brevardmuseum)

The 1970s US Environmental Movement, Lessons for Today’s Indian River Lagoon

Stiller property and fish camp in 1964. This area was developed later as Mariner Cay and is located on St Lucie Boulvard on the Manatee Pocket. (Photo archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Years ago, a  common sight, “dredge and fill. “Canals cut into the land prior to the United States’ “environmental movement” that affected Florida State law. Photo: Stiller property and fish camp in 1964. This area was developed later in 1973 as Mariner Cay and is located on St Lucie Boulvard on the Manatee Pocket, Stuart. (Photo archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

When it becomes discouraging and we feel as though we will “never” be able to fix the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, it  is helpful to review environmental accomplishments of the past.

I was born in 1964 and a common thing to see in Martin County when I was growing up was development of coastal lands in a way that is rarely seen today-the cutting of canals right into the land abutting the river. Some of our most popular communities are based around the dredging and filling or the lands, or lands that had been cut earlier and then “improved.”  To name a few, North River Shores; Mariner Cay; Stuart Yacht and County Club; Archipelago, Sewall’s Point; Francis Langford’s Marina; Snug Harbor Marina; Sailfish Point and Marina; Indian River Plantation; Circle Bay Yacht Club. There are many more. The city of Ft Lauderdale was almost entirely developed and marketed this way, “Venice!”

Although the outcome is often “pretty,” in the long term, there are huge environmental consequences to dredge and fill and this type of work is not “encouraged” for riverfront residential development today. Why? How did this common practice, so destructive,   become more restrictive? This is the question I asked my attorney brother, Todd Thurlow, and this was his answer”

“Increased state regulation is probably in accordance with Federal Law. This is a whole area is study in federalism, environmental law and the federal government’s ability to influence the states to regulate themselves.”

Hmmm. To “regulate ourselves,” what a concept….

I started researching, and even though I was familiar, it helped to review the environmental movement of the United States. Historically, there had been conservationist like president Teddy Roosevelt and others but it was not until the late 1960s and1970s after an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, that the US environmental movement really gained momentum. Remember it was the people who moved mountains not the government…

With pressure from the public, in 1969, what is considered the “magna carta” of US environmental law was passed, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA  “established a U.S. national policy promoting the enhancement of the environment and also established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). It is one of the most emulated statutes in the world.”

NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs). (We see the these requirements hold today even with All Aboard Florida.)

NEPA led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, along with the very important Clean Air and Water Acts of the 1970s. In response to this federal pressure, the state of Florida merged agencies creating the Department of Environmental Regulation in the mid 1970s. Today this agency has adapted to be the Department of Environmental Protection.

The apex of the movement was a book published  in 1962 by a former Fish and Wildlife employee and marine biologist, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, that shined a light on pesticide use post World War II in the US and led to near banning of the common chemical DDT. Even though the powerful chemical companies fought the publication of the book, threatening to sue for libel, they lost and the pressure of the public’s “want to know” overcame….

The thread here? The people caused the change. Do not rely on the  government for change, create it yourself by exerting pressure on your government.  Whether this happens on the level of the United States environmental movement or the River Movement of 2013 here at home, the key to change is the people. Hope you learned or remembered something and that you feel inspired. Keep up the good work!

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History Department  of Environmental Regulation/Protection, Florida: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Department_of_Environmental_Protection)

History of NEPA, US Environmental law 1969 :(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Environmental_Policy_Act)

History, Environmental Policy of the US: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_policy_of_the_United_States#Origins_of_the_environmental_movement)