In Their Own Words: E-Mails Show Irresponsibility
By Charles Flowers
A review of e-mail correspondence to and from state officials over five months shows a pattern of irresponsibility for the safety of the archaeological treasures first discovered at Newnan's Lake this May.
In fact, the officials' primary concern was not the ancient canoes, but rather a local citizen who first complained about a deadhead logging operation on the lake. In a chilling example of public officials turning on an innocent "whistleblower," false accusations, innuendo, and disrespectful comments were hurled online via state computers.
The e-mails were part of a public records request by the Seminole Tribune. E-mails are notes sent instantly from one computer user to another. Unless erased, they are stored on the computer for later retrieval.
The first e-mail regarding Newnan's Lake, dated May 18, was sent to Jim Miller, State Archaeologist in the Division of Historic Resources (DHR) from Erika Simons. Simons was with archaeologists Barbara Purdy and Ray McGee when they discovered the first seven (of 87) ancient canoes buried in the drought exposed lakebed. She included photos of Purdy and McGee with a partially excavated canoe plainly visible.
One day later, May 19, a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) chemist named Tom Frick wrote a DEP colleague that he had done a pre-recovery assessment of the Newnan's Lake site with logger Charles Pinson. No mention was made of any canoes or archaeological concerns.
"We observed a number of areas where log recovery was already taking place and spoke with a land owner who was claiming ownership of the lake bottom," Frick wrote.
(Frick was referring to illegal logging not permitted by the state. The land owner was Dale Crider, whose complaints of environmental damage first alerted officials that something might be amiss with a permitted deadhead logging operation on the lake.)
One week later, May 26, John Tietjen, a DEP investigator, wrote his superior, Jack Dunphy: "There are what appear to be skid marks from the waters edge to a ramp near kreidler's (sic) residence. Boards can be seen through the trees drying. In short, I think we can show his involvement." (The subject of the investigation, "kreidler," is Newnan's Lake resident Crider.) There is still no mention of any Indian canoes, although the local Gainesville Sun would report June 2 that more than 20 had been found.
On June 7, the DEP's Michael Eaton wrote, "Mr. Crider has been removing logs for a number of years from the lake. Based on our proprietary ownership, C&E (compliance and enforcement) is going to pursue enforcement if he continues doing so."
(Note: Crider says the logs he used to build his house were taken years ago from property for which he has a deed and pays taxes on. No case against Crider has yet been filed by "C&E," DEP or any other agency.)
On June 15 - a month after the canoes were found - comes the first e-mail reference indicating DEP knew anything about any Indian canoes in danger. Dunphy wrote: "Chris Newman (a state archaeologist) reported to Steve Sabia that the deadhead logger on Newnan's Lake (presumably Pinson) had damaged an indian (sic) canoe that was clearly marked as a historic (sic) site. Melissa Memory (?) is on site and can be reached at cellular . . . If you can, please check this out today."
(Dunphy's question mark indicates he did not know that Melissa Memory was a state archaeologist working for the Buereau of Archaeological Research (BAR) on Newnan's Lake.)
June 15 was the date Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers were called to Newnan's Lake by Memory. An investigation by FWC Sgt. Chip Bradshaw halted Pinson's logging operation for three weeks.
On June 20, while Pinson had temporarily stopped his work, DEP's Tietjen reported, "According to Memory, extensive damage was being done intentionally." Tietjen also says he spoke to FWC's Bradshaw, who had interviewed both Memory and Pinson: "There are inconsistencies in the statements but to highlight them we need to transcribe two hours of taped interview and compare it to Memory's statement. Memory reportedly has videotape showing willful damage in progress. Bradshaw hasn't seen it."
Neither had Tietjen. Nor would he make any independent investigation beyond Crider, and another lake resident who readily admitted he had harvested logs. Two days later, Bradshaw sent an e-mail to Tietjen which included Bradshaw's FWC investigation; it included copies of statements from Memory, McGee and East Side High School teacher Steve Everett about damage to canoes, as well as Pinson's side of the story. Bradshaw also sent Tietjen a map detailing the sites of the alleged damage to canoes.
On Sept. 5 - 45 days after the logger finished his logging at Newnan's - Tietjen finally filed his (May 25 to June 6) investigation report. He had apparently still not reviewed either the taped or written statements taken by Bradshaw, or Memory's videotape of Pinson allegedly logging in a restricted historic area.
Instead, he wrote: "The focus of this investigation was Mr. Dale Crider." By this time, Crider, a retired FWC biologist, had taken his complaints to Gov. Jeb Bush and Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
Tietjen also mentions an FWC officer, Jim Sullivan, who he said "had been involved with Steve Everett in protecting Indian artifacts on the Northeast shore of the lake."(Everett calls that statement "horse manure.")
In fact, following Bradshaw's report of Sullivan's activities on behalf of the logger -- and a Seminole Tribune report published on the Internet -- FWC would launch an internal investigation of the officer for working on his own time with Pinson. Witnesses charged Sullivan with a conflict of interest, saying he wore his badge and gun while working plainclothes with Pinson.
(According to FWC Capt. John Moran, the internal investigation had not concluded, and as of Oct. 13 Sullivan has not been disciplined or suspended.)
Tietjen did speak to Everett and noted in his Sept. 5 report that Everett "pointed out at least two 'canoes' which had been damaged. To me, these canoes appeared to be two foot by eighteen-inch portion of burned log. On 05 June, I requested that the active investigation be suspended. Crider had been told to take no more logs from the lake, Pinson was operating on his permit from the department, Sgt. Bradshaw and Officer Sullivan of FWCC had the artifact investigation in hand. At about this point Ms. Memory entered the scene."
(As an investigator, Tietjen was a bad archaeologist. His boss, Roberts, had been notified of the canoes six weeks before Tietjen's Sept. 5 report. Tietjen failed to note that Sullivan was working for Pinson and not representing FWC at the Newnan's logging site -- despite the fact Pinson told Bradshaw he had hired Sullivan. Nor did Tietjen realize that Memory had been on the scene since mid-May when the canoes were first found; she lives near Newnan's Lake.)
Memory did not endear herself to Pinson or the DEP. E-mails suggest her presence - flagging artifacts and monitoring the scene, video camera in hand - as antagonistic. Incredibly, she was asked to leave the site by her own boss at DHR - Ryan Wheeler, (who signed the DHR letter which allowed Pinson to resume his work after the three-week halt ordered by FWC).
Other than Crider glaring from his backyard -- he had been threatened with arrest and ordered to stay away by FWC -- Memory's departure left the logging unmonitored. On July 12, Crider noted in an e-mail: "As the following e-mail from me to the Governor will indicate, I have not observed the care and protection a private citizen might expect from the Department of Environmental Protection."
Included in Crider's concerns was fear the hostile confrontations with the logger might erupt in violence. An undated e-mail from Crider to Jeremy Tyler of DEP noted that "Mr. Pinson became bitterly threatening and shouted to me 'get away from here and go back to your house' . . . This confrontation is serious and I believe it warrants your office calling a halt to this man's deadheading determination until this issue can be peaceably discussed . . . "
On Aug. 18, long after Pinson had finished his logging, he e-mailed DEP inspector Steve Schaper that he was innocent of the charges made by Everett, McGee and Memory in sworn statements to Chip Bradshaw: (see related e-mail at right.)
"If all three claimed that I destroyed 2 canoes east of the mill site (not true) then where is the proof, you know photos, excavations, etc. How about the stolen 'canoe'? I saved it, it still sits at the sawmill untouched, a monument to er . . . uh . . . shortcomings, let's say."
The "stolen" canoe may refer to another historic canoe which Memory believed was on Pinson's log pile. There is no evidence that Schaper or anyone else asked to see it to determine whether it was or was not one of the many canoes dating from 3000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. found at the site during the period of Pinson's logging.
'Rare Mussels and Sponges'
Pinson would show he shared Tietjen's archaeological expertise and doubts about whether the Newnan's Lake artifacts were really canoes in two other e-mails to DEP. On Sept. 5, he e-mailed what he calls "newnan's desert photos." He refers to them as "rare mussels and sponges." On Sept. 18, he forwarded a joke about a man who supposedly sends a Barbie doll head to the Smithsonian.
Later in his Aug. 15 letter, Pinson revealed his feelings for Crider, who is well-known for his folk songs about Florida's environment:
"If and when the BOT (Board of Trustees) axes the deadhead logging program, can I continue to pull logs as long as I write cutesy songs about saving the environment? Do I have to really be suffering from dementia or can I just fake that part?"
On Aug. 16, Schaper, who was paid out of permit fees collected by DEP from deadhead loggers like Pinson, expressed sympathy for Pinson's predicament. By that time, Pinson had been told he could not return to Newnan's Lake to get additional timbers he had left there.
"When you decided on Newnans, no one realized that this would all come about." Schaper wrote. "Power of the media and controversy sells papers. As far as the DEP is concerned you were/are within your permit (very well in fact) and I wish there was something I could do for you personally."
Schaper's colleagues also began to distrust the media. As Eaton wrote in an Aug. 23 memo to Gordon Roberts and Phil Coram, his superiors at DEP, inquiries by Seminole Tribune reporters were no longer welcome:
"We have had several direct contacts with a reporter by the name of Charles Flowers regarding deadhead logging in Newnans Lake," Eaton advised. "I do not think that it is appropriate for our staff to have direct contact with Mr. Flowers."
By Aug. 29, Coram - the upper-level DEP official who approves the deadhead logging permits - would reach the same conclusion: "My feeling is that the Tribune will continue to write stories on Newnams (sic) Lake critical of DEP and SHR, agency finger pointing, failure to coordinate, etc. Seems like these reporters have nothing else on their plate and can spend a significant amount of time on this issue. In addition they apparently have copies of FWC and SHR documents that have not been provided to DEP as far as I can tell."
(In fact, Coram's staff did have the FWC investigation; it was sent to Tietjen, whose e-mails suggest he ignored it. Tietjen also did not show the report to Gordon Roberts, who told the Tribune FWC never sent it, or to Russ Frydenburg, who wrote the Aug. 30 faux post-asessment report that cleared Pinson of environmental and artifact damage.) "Although not archaeologists, we saw no evidence that these artifacts had been damaged, and Mr. Schaper confirmed that the permitee avoided this area after it was found," said Frydenburg's report.
Eaton attached this revealing note: "Maybe this will now all go away." It was Crider they wanted. The following day, an e-mail from Pinson to DEP referred to Crider as "Roost man."
In a little more than four months, the DEP focused its investigation on the first whistle-blower (Crider), disparaged the second (Memory), entertained insults of these and other affected parties with the man whose operation they were supposed to monitor (Pinson), and embargoed the press (Flowers and Gallagher).
The FWC, while conducting the most thorough investigation of any law enforcement agency contacted (including, notably, Attorney Gen. Bob Butterworth's office whose representative said it lacked jurisdiction over DEP), also permitted an employee to accept payment for work on behalf of the logger Pinson - with no penalty to date.
And the DHR, one of the few agencies to receive a copy of Pinson's permit application for review, failed to pre-challenge the logging operation on archaeological grounds, even though it had direct evidence from reliable sources that Indian canoes were being found on Newnan's Lake in great number. Even when damage was documented, DHR failed to call a permanent halt.
In fact, the logger planned to return to Newnan's, with the blessing of DEP and the ambivalence of DHR, to pick up the logs he missed on the first run.
It wasn't until Aug. 28 - three-and-a-half months after the canoes had been found - that Gov. Jeb Bush stepped in the middle of bickering state officials and asked DEP's Coram to stop all logging on Florida lakes.
The e-mail flowing during all of this paints portraits of irresponsibility: blind boosterism and denial by the DEP, dereliction of duty by DHR, and conflict of interest, by FWC.
Pinson himself, though pleasant enough in conversations with the Tribune, reveals himself in these e-mails to be something of a bully, whose tactics were supported by what he called "God in my back pocket" - a permit granted by DEP.
"The DEP is spelled G-O-D," Pinson told the Tribune.
If that is true, these e-mails show it is a forgiving god. And a contrite one.
In the wake of the controversy, both DEP and DHR are struggling to improve public notification procedures. A Sept. 7 memo from Roberts requires all deadhead logging permit holders to publish a public notice in the newspaper for areas where their logging activities will take place: "It will help in areas where we have some special concerns that we are not aware of."
Still, no state official has yet to apologize for damage to the reputations of Crider or Memory, bullied away from their watch of Newnan's Lake and its treasures, both environmental and historical. Despite some state officials' fondest hopes, this issue is not going away.