Tag Archives: St Johns River

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)

Port St Lucie was a Swamp? Really? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Topographical map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Topographical 1823 U.S. Army map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Map overlay with I-95 and Turnpike. (Todd Thurlow)
Map in transition/overlay showing today’s  I-95 and Turnpike in yellow. (Todd Thurlow)

Link to short video journey showing the former swamp “Alpatiokee” juxtaposed to today’s agriculture and development– Post St Lucie and western Martin County,

The first map in the video is a 1823 U.S. Army Map showing “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp,” as it was known. The second is a 1846 map by Bruff. We then fly in to view Green Ridge, and the ridge just east of Indiantown. Next, we then overlay the 1983 Topo maps to view Green Ridge again, fly up, and around, Ten-mile Creek, and then back down the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. —-Todd Thurlow

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2f-e0ul1mY&feature=youtu.be)

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Not only was the city of Port St Lucie a swamp, but western Martin County was too. Please view the above video and “see” for yourself! It must have been a fabulous place, now long gone, know as “Alpatiokee,” or “Halpatiokee Swamp.”

Meaning “alligator waters” by the Seminoles, these lands/waterways were traversed for centuries in hand-made canoes. The native people and the Seminoles traveled many miles through the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and during rainy season they could travel all the way up into the St Johns River. How? Because these lands, when flooded, were “connected.” Now they are not only no longer connected but water that flowed north into the St John’s flows south into the St Lucie River….

Back to Port St Lucie…..

Recently, I kept noticing that the 1856 “Everglades” Military Map I like so much showed an expansive swamp close to where Port St Lucie and western Martin County are located today.

“This is weird,” I thought.  “What happened to the old swamp?”

So, I contacted my brother, Todd, who loves maps and can combine them together with technology. (See link/video above.)

Below you’ll find an edited version of Todd’s notes to me.

I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and sometimes a bit unsettling….The natural ridges in the land we seem to ignore; how we blew canals through them; how the water USED to flow; how humans have developed and built agricultural empires, and changed everything….Maybe one day with visual tools like these, future land planners, and water district employees can change back some of our landscape to it’s former glory, and maybe even return a few gators to the landscape, since it’s named after them.

That would be nice, something more to look at while driving the Turnpike than “concrete.” 🙂

Alligator resting but always alert....(Public photo.)
Halpatiokee or Alpatiokee translates as  “alligator water” in the Seminole language. (Public photo.)

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TODD’S NOTES REGARDING VIDEO:

THE OLD MAPS: The old maps are not necessarily accurate, but they give an idea… They show basically what was known as the “Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.”  On some other maps it is labeled the “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” On almost all old maps, it would cover the area that is labeled Allapattah Flats on the modern topographical maps — but Hal-pa-ti-o-kee was probably more to the east.

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Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.
Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.

TOPOGRAPHY AND RIDGES: There are two distinct ridges in western Martin County. Green Ridge is about 4.6 miles west of the turnpike, (12.5 miles west of the ocean), and can be seen on aerials. The western edge of Allapattah flats is a ridge where the elevation goes quickly from about 30 fee to 40 feet. This ridge (an obvious ancient ocean shoreline) can be seen running all the way to Cape Canaveral parallel to the coast. This ridge is about 12.5 miles west of the turnpike (20 miles from the ocean). Indiantown sits on the high side of the ridge. This Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on those old maps would be the we area east of the Indiantown ridge – so it is basically all of western Martin and St. Lucie County.

FORMER WATER FLOW: Probably everything east of the Green Ridge flowed east into the St. Lucie. Everything between the two ridges flowed north to the St. Johns watershed and everything West of the Indiantown ridge (not much) flowed west into Lake Okeechobee via the little creeks on the east bank of the

….Somewhere between the St. Johns and the St. Lucie so everything between the two ridges, but north of that point, went north to the St. Johns River. Everything south would have gotten picked up by Ten-mile creek in the extreme North Fork of the St. Lucie River, which actually flowed north-east before turning back south to the St. Lucie.

CONCLUSION: There are academics that would know this stuff for sure and all the proper names. These ridges are like little continental divides, separating water flows into separate directions like the Rocky Mountains. When they busted all these canals through the ridges they changed the direction of all the water flows from mostly north/south to east/west. But that was the goal — get it to sea level as quickly as possible and drain the swamps…

—Todd Thurlow, Thurlow and Thurlow, PA (http://thurlowpa.com)

Ten and Five Mile Creeks, the Once Glorious Headwaters of the North Fork of the St Lucie River

North Fork of the St Lucie River is fed by Five and Ten Miles Creeks in St Lucie County. Once the glorious headwaters, they are today hardly recognizable.
North Fork of the St Lucie River is fed by Five and Ten Mile Creeks in St Lucie County. Once the glorious headwaters, they are today hardly recognizable.(Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2010)

10 mile creek

Map, SLC, Ten and Five Mile Creeks are located in St Lucie County north of Midway Road.

Ernie Lyons wrote in the 1960s: “There was never anything more beautiful than a natural South Florida River, like the North and South Forks of the St Lucie…Their banks of cabbage palms and live oaks draped with Spanish moses and studded with crimson flowered air plants and delicate wild orchids were scenes of tropical wonder, reflected back from the mirror-like onyx surface of the water….”

A recent St Lucie County tourist publication goes back even further back: “Early Ten Mile Creek along with Five Mile Creek to the northeast form the headwaters of the North Fork of the St Lucie. These waters were originally comprised of a large area of interconnected march that eventually formed a creek. This marsh system in times of high water connected with the St Johns River, which flows north, allowing native peoples to  travel many miles by canoe. These native peoples lived and flourished in this area 3000 to 750 years BC.”

Although the north fork and attached waters were awarded the “Florida Outstanding Waters” designation in the 1970s, by 1995 the Department of Environmental Protection published a report on pesticide contamination in the area: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf)

Today the area is most well known for “Ten Mile Creek,” the failed storm water treatment area  built by the Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/FactSheets/10Mile_FS_July2012_508.pdf) Thankfully after more than a decade, the agencies are moving forward on rectifying what they can of the project.

So what happened? How did this paradise die off? How did the “fresh water in the upper zones, furnishing some of the most marvelous sport fishing conceivable” pretty much disappear?

Again, I will quote Stuart News editor and environmentalist, Ernie Lyons: “Drainage canals mostly for agricultural purposes, cut the throats of the upper rivers. During periods of  heavy rainfall, muddy waters gushed down and turned the formerly clear streams into a turbid, silted mess. During dry spells, gated dams held back the water for irrigation. The water table was lowered. Salt marched upstream, turning the formerly fresh waters brackish and eventually so salty that fresh water fish could not procreate.”

As we know, humankind changes his/her environment. Not only were the canals cut in the northern creeks, but Gilbert’s Bar/St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently (by hand) in 1892, allowing salt water permanently into what used to be a fresh water river….the St Lucie.

Somehow it seems we should be able to change things with out creating so much destruction. I have hope our children will…