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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thinking, and What to Do About It

One of my publishers is considering a new edition of one of my books, and sent out requests for recommendations from folks who've used it as a textbook. One of the responses went like this:

"(King) is getting more crotchety in his old age, but he makes you (the teacher) and the students think. I don’t always, or even 50% agree with him, but he always stimulates debate in my classes."


"(I tell people): 'You need to read Tom King’s stuff. You laugh, you cry, you cringe, you yell at the book, but it always makes you think.'"

I appreciate those comments; I naturally like to think that my writings stimulate thinking. But I can't help but be a bit frustrated, too. "Hey, Reviewer," I think, "if you don't agree with half of what I write, and if you find yourself yelling at my books, why in the world don't you write something about the subject yourself? A book, a journal article, something on my (or someone else's) blog? Why don't we have a dialogue? That's how we both -- all -- can learn."

I expect the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other bastions of the lightly-considered status quo to ignore my existence, and my expectations have never been disappointed.  But I do wonder about academics, who theoretically engage in scholarly discourse and encourage students to do the same. If you don't like or agree with what you read, sheesh, there are things to do about that. Question it!  Challenge it!  Argue about it!  Isn't that what scholars are supposed to do?
Only the most stultified of bureaucrats simply ignores what doesn't comport with what he thinks (or has been taught to think) and waits for it to be forgotten. But -- maybe I'm missing the real point.  Maybe life in a stultified bureaucracy is the kind of career for which you think you ought to prepare your students.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Lihir Islands: a Cultural Heritage/Resource Planning Model?

The latest issue (18:1, 2011) of the International Journal of Cultural Property (Cambridge University Press) contains a number of thought-provoking papers. One that should be of special interest to those involved in environmental impact assessment (EIA) and cultural resource management (CRM) is "Stepping Stones Across the Lihir Islands: Developing Cultural Heritage Management in the Context of a Gold-Mining Operation," by Nicholas Bainton, Chris Ballard, Kirsty Gillespie, and Nicholas Hall (pp. 81-110].

The Lihir Islands are in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Bainton and his colleagues provide a concise summary of how cultural heritage/resource management law and practice have developed in PNG in the post-colonial period, including their hopeful if rather tenuous relationship to national development schemes and the interests of extractive industries like gold mining. They then discuss their own experience with a particularly tricky relationship -- that between the traditional people of the gold-rich Lihir Islands and the mining company Lihir Gold Ltd. (LGL) At the center of this uneasy relationship is Ailaya, a cultural landscape of considerable spiritual significance to the Lihirians, around which mining has taken place and within which there are economic incentives to mine (i.e. there's gold in that thar landscape). The evident conflict between mining and preservation of the landscape has not been resolved, but the Lihirians and Stepwise Heritage and Tourism, the Australian company that engaged Bainton and his colleagues and drew financial backing from LGL, have taken significant-seeming steps toward creating a context in which to address this and other development/culture conflicts by developing the Lihir Cultural Heritage Plan, whose pidgin name translates as “A Plan for Social Stability and Harmony on Lihir.” The authors' discussion of how this plan was developed in active collaboration with (really BY) Lihirian communities is fascinating, and may provide something of a model that – with much adaptation – could be useful elsewhere. It was interesting to me that the Lihir initiative employed the popular Australian "footsteps" approach to planning, which I've seen referred to and described but never until now could quite get into my head. Bainton and his colleagues show how "footsteps" works, and it seems very sensible. It will be interesting to see how successful the Plan is at resolving the seemingly inevitable conflict between mining and the sanctity of Ailaya, but one of the Plan's heartening aspects is that it does not (apparently) focus on the sacred landscape in its own right, for its own sake, as we would tend to do if it were in the U.S. and treated as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  Rather, as I understand it from this article, the Plan truly focuses on social stability and harmony on Lihir.  In this broad context, management of Ailaya will inevitably play an important role, but not necessarily a determinative one, and not in isolation from the rest of what Lihirians value in their culture.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Public Hearings, Public Participation, and Consultation

From Basin and Range Watch at

September 3, 2011 - The Moreno Valley office of Bureau of Land Management (not the local Needles BLM office) held what was thought to be a scoping meeting at the Primm golf course for First Solar's Stateline Solar Farm application for a Right-of-Way for about 2,200 acres of public land next to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Members of the public drove hours from as far as Palm Springs, Needles, and Las Vegas and beyond to the meeting thinking that they would be able to give voice to comments concerning the project. Union members, environmentalists, members of the Chemehuevi Tribe, and other concerned citizens attended the meeting hoping to have a chance to give comments in a public venue to the federal agency responsible for permitting the project.

They were denied this chance.

The meeting turned out to be a chance for First Solar to tell the public a few items about the proposed project, and then a "crowd-management" session of tables with various contractors available to answer questions privately. This is not what the public wanted. Quite often, in well-run BLM offices, scoping meetings will give people a chance to vocally enter comments into the record, and even have a recorder present to do this. Often an audience wants to hear other's concerns and learn about different issues and opinions. This is democracy after all.

But lately a new style of scoping has emerged, where the public is handed a sheet of paper and in 75 words or less asked to write comments to be handed in to BLM. No oral comments allowed. Jeffery Childers, BLM Project Manager for the application out of Moreno Valley, California, denied the public any chance to give public comments at this meeting after First Solar gave a brief review of the project. In addition, a county sheriff squad car was parked outside the building, and three BLM Law Enforcement Rangers armed with handguns and tasers were present in the room.

A colleague sent me the above link, asking if I was aware of similar forms of “consultation” or “scoping” used on other projects around the nation. My answer was sort of “a pox on both your houses.”

I’ve seen the basic format described above – presentation followed by breakouts – used quite responsibly in a lot of public participation efforts; it can be a lot more effective than the traditional “public hearing” as a means of sharing information and helping people understand a project and its potential impacts. Public hearings, in my experience, too often devolve into what a tribal colleague once defined for me as “Three-I” sessions: “Inform, get Input, and Ignore.” The proponent makes its pitch, the public officials blather, then each member of the benighted public gets 3 or 5 or 7.2 minutes to speak, and does so with greater or less coherence and vitriol, whereupon the “responsible” agency thanks everyone and checks off “public hearing” on its list of things to do.

It’s sad that people concerned about project impacts, like Basin and Range Watch in this case, put so much stress on public hearings. Such a hearing is a chance to vent, but that’s about all it is.

On the other hand, a “present the project and have breakouts,” by itself, may not accomplish much, and certainly lacks the synergy of a public hearing. It may be particularly ineffective – even counterproductive as seems to have been the case with the First Solar “hearing,” particularly when people have to drive in from considerable distances with the expectation of being heard.

It ought to be noted that neither the traditional hearing nor the “present and breakout” approach constitutes “consultation” as defined in the regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Nor, of course, does it have anything to do with an agency’s responsibility to consult with Indian tribes on a government-to-government basis. Section 106 consultation is defined as:

the process of seeking, discussing, and considering the views of other participants, and, where feasible, seeking agreement with them (36 CFR § 800.16(f), emphasis added).

Tribal consultation, and, I think, all consultation, ought to be similarly understood – you try to find out what people’s concerns are (which may be aided by hearings and presentation/breakout sessions), you discuss them – which means a back and forth conversation, whether face-to-face or via phone, letter, internet or smoke signal – and consider them, and most importantly, unless for some reason it’s not feasible to do so, you seek agreement about how those concerns will be addressed. You may not achieve it, but you try. Which means negotiation, and documenting its results before you make your decision.

That’s how an agency or project proponent actually respects somebody’s concerns. Hearings and presentation/breakout sessions may contribute to this sort of consultation, but they don’t substitute for it.