In August 2012, the National Park Service (NPS) issued the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Final Disposition of the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building. Completion of the document was mandated by the U.S. District Court in response to a lawsuit filed by the Recent Past Preservation Network (RPPN) and others against the NPS for violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). With release of the document, a public comment period opened, eventually closing on September 21, 2012.
During this period, RPPN, in conjunction with its lawyers, issued its formal comments in the form of a 15-page letter to the staff of Gettysburg National Military Park and senior cultural resource staff at the National Park Service. In our comments, we note that the EA is both arbitrary and capricious and fails to provide objective, critical analysis, thus systematically precluding meaningful public review and legally-defensible agency decision-making.
In brief, our response highlights that:
- The EA inaccurately defines the role of the 1999 General Management Plan (GMP) and related prior litigation, claiming that the GMP approved demolition of the Cyclorama. Such statements are then used to inappropriately limit the scope and analysis presented in the EA.
- The EA repeatedly fails to appropriately account for the significance of the Cyclorama. This is particularly noticeable in the EA’s continual failure to acknowledge the multiple contexts under which the Cyclorama is significant, eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), and considered “exceptional” by the Keeper of the NRHP. The EA also blatantly ignores the fact that the Cyclorama was intended by the architect and the 1960s NPS staff as a commemorative structure and is thus very much an integral element of the commemorative landscape, just like any other memorial constructed at the site.
- The EA ignores documentation previously supplied by RPPN in 2010, which provides scholarly research detailing the significance of the Cyclorama.
- The EA fails to comply with requirements of NEPA by neglecting to make available critical information that is necessary for effective and accurate review by the public. This includes portions of the GMP, collections management statements, the Cultural Landscape Report (CLR), and documentation regarding the NRHP eligibility of the Cyclorama.
- The EA presents inconsistent and sometimes illogical analysis of potential alternatives and environmental consequences and simultaneously fails to consider certain alternatives that would both meet the purpose and need of the project and ensure the preservation of the Cyclorama. Furthermore, the cost analyses associated with the alternatives are at times inconsistent and appear to distort the perception of the true costs that would be borne by the NPS as part of each alternative.
- The EA ignores CEQ guidance in the preparation of NEPA documents by claiming that the project will result in no significant impact to cultural resources despite evidence to the contrary.
In acknowledging the errors, omissions, and fallacies in the EA, RPPN calls for the revision and recirculation of the EA for public review in order to fully comply with the implementing regulations of NEPA. Furthermore, if the NPS decides to continue to move toward demolition, RPPN notes that the complexities of the project obligate the NPS to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), mandated by a significant impact finding, which, by definition, would result from the demolition of the Cyclorama, a nationally significant structure. In addition, if demolition ultimately moves forward RPPN has requested that additional mitigation measures be completed to more fully account for the loss of this nationally significant building.
With comments having been issued, RPPN will wait to see how the NPS responds before deciding further action. Through it all, RPPN continues to not only advocate for responsible reuse of this nationally significant building but also continues to fight to ensure that the recent past is appropriately and adequately considered as part of federal regulations that mandate equal treatment for all historic properties, regardless of their vintage and regardless of the appreciation or lack thereof from agencies. Indeed, the places of the recent past are part of the dynamic and varied landscapes that comprise our unique and irreplaceable communities and are afforded objective, critical analysis under federal regulations just as any traditional historic property; as it currently stands, though, the EA fails to achieve this.