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Former NPS Official Found To Have Overlooked Environmental Regs Said To Be Next Acting Director


A former top National Park Service official implicated more than a decade ago for improperly paving the way for the owner of the Washington Redskins to cut down trees on a 2-acre scenic easement along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is expected to become the agency's next acting director, possibly as soon as next week, National Parks Traveler has learned.

P. Daniel Smith, who retired in 2014 after 10 years as superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia, will return to the Park Service on Monday as deputy director and then be named acting director, according to sources. Mike Reynolds, who has been acting director since Jon Jarvis retired a year ago, must relinquish the position as it was limited by a 300-day appointment.

April Slayton, the Park Service's assistant director for communications, would not immediately confirm the appointment but referred the matter to the Interior Department's communications staff. Heather Swift, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's spokeswoman, did not immediately reply Thursday morning to Traveler's inquiry on the matter.

Two sources, one inside the Park Service and one outside, told the Traveler of the pending appointment. An internal email obtained by the Traveler, from Lori K. Mashburn, the Interior Department's White House liaison, announced Mr. Smith's upcoming return to Interior.

Mr. Smith, at the time special assistant to then-NPS Director Fran Mainella, was found by the Interior Department's Inspector General to have "inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures" to permit Redskins owner Dan Snyder to have trees up to 6 inches wide at breast height on the easement cut down to improve the Potomac River view from his mansion.

According to the investigation by then-Inspector General Earl Devaney's staff, the Park Service failed to conduct the requisite environmental assessment as required by the NPS Director's Handbook before issuing the special user permit to Mr. Snyder.

Smith had become involved in the matter in 2002, according to the OIG report, and in 2004 called Chesapeake and Ohio Canal staff to say that, "Snyder was not happy with the pace of negotiations with NPS concerning the scenic easement."

"The C&O NHP Lands Coordinator admitted that after his conversation with Smith, he felt pressure to secure an agreement with Snyder," the report (attached below) added. "He related that he met with Smith at least twice after the call, once at Snyder's residence in June 2004 and another time on the C&O Canal towpath below Snyder's residence."

Caught up in the episode was Robert Danno, who was chief ranger at the historical park at the time and found himself maligned for raising the matter with superiors. A career Park Service ranger with an impressive resume, Mr. Danno seemingly was exiled by the agency for blowing the whistle on superiors who ignored well-established federal laws and agency policies and procedures in allowing a billionaire to chop down trees in a scenic easement.

He was busted from his chief ranger's position and, at one point, assigned to approving picnicking permits and, at another, given an office with virtually no tasks. He later reached an unspecified settlement with the Park Service and moved from Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, where he managed the battlefield's boundaries, to Montana to work at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. 

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, was disappointed that Secretary Zinke would bring Smith back into the Park Service.

"It is disturbing but perhaps indicative that the Trump people would resurrect a political hatchet man to take the helm at the National Park Service. In the Snyder-gate affair, Smith demonstrated a complete lack of respect for protecting park resources or for following established safeguards," Mr. Ruch said in an email Thursday. "It is also noteworthy that the IG investigators found Smith to be untruthful and that his mendacity prolonged the investigation at taxpayer expense – showing a troubling comfort level with alternative facts.

"Besides being a political-fixer, Smith also presided over a campaign of retaliation against the whistleblower, Chief Ranger Rob Danno, who reported the illegal tree-cutting to the IG. A recent survey of Interior employees found not only high rates of harassment but also reported retaliation," the PEER official added. "If promises by Secretary Zinke to change the culture of the Park Service are to be believed, then bringing in someone like Dan Smith is not only at cross-purposes but reinforces the very worst aspects of the deep dysfunctionality plaguing NPS."

President Trump has yet to nominate a permanent director for the Park Service. Interior staff have said a name was forwarded months ago but has yet to be acted upon.

After the tree-cutting episode, Mr. Smith was appointed superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia. That park was in the news last year because of the Trump's administration's support and approval of Dominion Power's plan to erect a more than 7-mile-long line of transmission towers running near Historic Jamestowne and Colonial National Historical Park.

Mr. Smith was said to be against the transmission line.

Dominion Virginia Power maintains that its proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Transmission Line, which will cross the James River between Surry and James City counties with 300-foot-tall towers, is the best way to maintain a healthy power grid in the area. But groups including the National Trust for Historic PreservationNational Parks Conservation Association, and Preservation Virginia maintained there were less-damaging solutions that wouldn't need to span the river and invade the historic setting.

The Interior Department's position on the transmission line project changed when President Trump took office.

Mr. Jarvis, before retiring, had said in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers that the project would cause "severe and unacceptable damage to this historically important area and the irreplaceable and iconic resources within it."

"Running power lines through the landscape where the earliest days of American history were written will forever change the ability of Americans to experience and understand our nation's earliest day," the letter also pointed out.

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Of course, making Mike Reynolds permanent would go against everything Zinke wants. 

And let's just go ahead and put someone in with a proven track record of cow-towing to the rich and to hell with what the NPS stands for.

Yeah another stupid, asinine move by zinke.

So adding more sludge to the swamp will somehow drain it????

I guess that makes about as much sense as the rest of the insanity pouring out of the White House these days.

Having read Robert Danno's book, "Worth Fighting For", and in my view, Mr. Danno's book is a well documented and creditable account of the facts of the incident, I was astonded to learn from the Traveler that Mr. P. Donald Smith is being brought out of retirement, and worse, being considered for the position of Acting NPS Director. I think you are right Lee, makes as much sense as so many other decisions coming from the current administration. Thank you Traveler fo posting this story, in my own opinion, this is an extremely poor decision on the part of the DOI Secretary. 

For Daniel Smith, doing a favor for an influential billionaire, Dan Snyder. was more important than his obligations to protect Park resources.  There was no accountability for the unlawful tree cutting, except that Mr. Snyder had to pay a small fine for violating a local ordinance.  Ranger Rob Danno, meanwhile, had his career derailed for having the temerity to air out this unlawful act.  This is yet another example of the President not only failing in his promise to "Drain the swamp", but his Secretary of Interior continues to stock our public lands with more swamp creatures who are unfit for leadership positions.

Dan did a good job at Colonial.  He was approachable and listened and believed in the misson of the park. He did oppose the potential impacts the transmission line would have at Colonial and more importantly he was an early advocate for asking the Corps of Engineers  to at least complete an EIS for the project - which Dominion opposes to this day!   He wasn't a firebrand or zealot - he looked at multiplse sides of an issue.  

Like everything else in this world, you can't believe EVERYTHING you read and there are many sides to the same story and many ways to spin a story depending on the outcome you desire.   

Andrew D:  Please explain your alternative facts and "...there are many sides to the same story..."  Please do not suggest by inuendo, provide facts which controdict the DOI IG investigation which stated that Dan Smith violated policy and law, providing false information to the IG investigators, delayed the investigation, pressured park staff to provide these favors to a local billionaire and undermined the primary mission of the NPS, protect the resouces unimpaired for future generations..."  Please, please explain these many sides, otherwise you are just floating a deflecting story which has no basis in truth or fact.  The truth is the NPS doesn't understand the meaning of ethical leadership, doubling down after a equally discraseful period of the Jarvis leadership model.  And, you are defending it.  God help us.

I suppose Captain Hazelwood of Valdez fame was unavailable so this choice makes sense.

Andrew D, I know nothing about Mr. Smith except what I learned from Robert Danno's book. You seem to like and follow NPS issues, I think you would enjoy Mr. Danno's book and find it quite creditable. Robert Danno was considered an excellent ranger, he was highly regarded by his peers. I have not met him, but I am acquaited with some that did work him. The way Mr. Danno was treated by carrying out his lawful duties was extremely toubling to me. I think you will find the actions taken against Mr. Danno as disheartening as many as his supporters did. You make agood point, you need to research and think about what you read, but in this case, in my own opinion, there was a serious breach of approved agency ethics as well as outright dishonesty on the part of Mr. Danno's superiors. 

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