116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The National Park Service (NPS) acknowledged in May 2014 that it failed 'to uphold the public trust in resource protection' at Effigy Mounds National Monument.
The admission came after two National Park Service critics — members of the Friends of Effigy Mounds and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — obtained a 723-page transcript of a Park Service internal investigation that documented staff failures to comply with resource protection laws between 1999 and 2009.
The investigation identified at least 78 structures, including elevated boardwalks, decks and a machine storage shed, built without first securing clearances under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies to consider the effect of projects on 'significant historic properties.'
The projects, completed at a combined cost of $3.4 million, constituted 'the largest official mass desecration of Indian prehistoric burial sites in the annals of the National Park Service,' according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
What's happened since
Phyllis Ewing, Effigy Mounds superintendent during the unlawful building spree, was transferred in 2010 to the Park Service's Omaha regional office, where she admittedly did little before her firing in November 2013. Earlier this year Ewing sued the Park Service, alleging that her firing amounted to scapegoating and age discrimination.
New revelations came to light in August when an unofficial 'Serious Mismanagement Report' was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
NPS officials ignored reports of mismanagement from 'numerous employees on multiple occasions, both formally and informally' over several years, according to the report, prepared by NPS special agent David Barland-Liles, NPS archaeologist Caven Clark and two current Effigy Mounds staff members, Superintendent Jim Nepstad and Chief Ranger Bob Palmer.
The report also stated that the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute responsible NPS officials — not because there had been no malfeasance, but because the 'weak and inappropriate initial response by the Agency ...
fatally encumbered the criminal case, creating a threshold of doubt that (it) did not believe could be overcome in a jury trial.'
The Park Service initially denied the existence of the 15-page report, but later acknowledged it, saying it had not been approved by the agency.
Nepstad said Tuesday that the report would serve as the foundation of an official report to be conducted by 'subject matter experts who had not been involved in the matter at the time.'
That report, Nepstad said, would be released later this year or early next year.
Also next year, Nepstad said he plans to begin a process that could lead to the removal of the two remaining boardwalks and other illegally constructed projects.
Some, he said, are 'relatively minor' and can be removed with careful thought and consultation. The elaborate boardwalks, one of which leads to a bridge spanning the Yellow River, are another matter, he said.
'Ripping it out wholesale can't be done. You can't commit the same errors in reverse. Removing them is an undertaking,' he said.
Nepstad said he would engage members of the 12 Native American tribes with an interest in the site, the State Historic Preservation Office and other members of the public in discussions about how to proceed.
'We want to make sure everyone has a chance to be heard on the issue,' he said.