The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Negative Declaration

Several years back, when I worked for a different firm, a project manager sent me an email stating that "I need you to write a negative declaration for a reservoir project."

A negative declaration, to give a simplified explanation, is a document that states that an environmental study was performed and that it was found that the proposed project, in this case the modification of a reservoir, will have no adverse impacts to the environment.

Knowing this, I sent an email back to the project manager requesting information regarding the study. She responded that there had not been a study. I requested a copy of the records search results, figuring that there hadn't been a survey because one had already been performed previously. No dice, no record search.

Puzzled, I figured that there was one last chance. The reservoir was being modified on behalf of the county, so perhaps they had worked out a programmatic agreement, a legal document that specifies the measures to be taken to protect environmental resources in the event of various types of development or construction, and the terms of that agreement removed the reservoir from consideration. So, I asked and was told that no, there was no programmatic agreement.

So, I asked, being as how there had been no attempt to assess the presence of or impacts to historic sites, how was I to write a negative declaration? If I had no information to go on, I had no legal way to prepare a document stating that there would be no impacts. Before I sent my response, I double-checked with another archaeologist who had been in this business for decades to make sure that I had a correct understanding of the regulations. With confirmation that I was correct, I sent the email back to the project manager.

An email came back, saying (and I'm having to paraphrase): "why is this so difficult for you to understand? You need to write a negative declaration! The area's a reservoir, so there's nothing there!"

I again checked with the older archaeologist, and then I wrote back explaining that archaeological sites are routinely found within reservoirs (in fact, I can think of three reservoirs off the top of my head which contain National Register Eligible archaeological sites), and so the fact that this location was a reservoir in no way exempted it from review and study.

The response (paraphrasing again): "I promised our client a negative declaration! You need to write one, or I will talk with the vice president in charge of our division."

I responded by copying and pasting the appropriate parts of the state regulations into the email, the parts that the explain the conditions under which a negative declaration can be prepared, and concluding by stating that if she disagreed with the state regulations, I would be happy to discuss the matter with her and the vice president of our division.

The next day I received an email that said, simply "just write the negative declaration."

Having gotten tired of this, I decided that I would do what she asked, but not in the way that she asked. The negative declaration is essentially a form that states what measures were taken to identify environmental issues and any outstanding matters yet to be resolved, and so I filled it out, explaining in each appropriate space that nothing had been done to assess whether or not the project would impact historic resources, and stating that such an assessment was an outstanding issue that had to be resolved before construction could begin. When I sent this, I included, once again, a paste of the relevant sections of the state regulations, and I copied the vice president and my direct supervisor on the email.

The next day she backed off and agreed that I should go out and do the necessary record search and survey.

At the time I had thought that she backed off because she realized that I wasn't going to allow myself to be bullied into doing something that I knew wasn't right, and because I had called her bluff by letting my boss and our vice president in on things.

About a year later, as I was preparing to leave the company, we had hired a new archaeologist. She requested that he write a negative declaration for a new project. When handing the project to him, she said that she wanted him, and not me, to do it because I "don't understand that sometimes you just have to write a negative declaration."

So, I don't know if she was corrupt, incompetent, stupid, or some combination of the three, but she apparently didn't get it. I was happy to see, however, that the new archaeologist did manage to force her into allowing study as well. And he found a few important sites, making a negative declaration a bad idea.


RBH said...

Oh, she learned something: To not ask you for a phony negative declaration. :)

Anthroslug said...

Yeah, there is that. This morning, I did hear from someone who currently works for her, and apparently she has improved.

Anonymous said...

"All I asked you to do was falsify a declaration so we can go forward without delay. How dare you not jump at the chance to be accused of fraud!"