JOURNAL OF THE PROFESSIONAL TREASURE HUNTER

SHIPWRECK SALVAGING IN FLORIDA WATERS

A Forum by John Brandon

PART FOUR

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       In the last article I discussed the Sanctuary Plan as it applied to shipwreck salvaging in the Florida keys and possible impact on the entire salvaging industry.
      In May of 1995, a meeting was set up by Keys salvors Jay Usher and Taras Lysenko between the salvors, NOAA, and the Department of Historical Records in Marathon.  The meeting was well attended by the salvage community with about 100 people present.  Such Keys salvors as Mel Fisher, Kane Fisher, Don Washington, Jack Haskins, Bobby Jordan, Chuck Mitchell, Joe Kimbell, Kevin McKee, and many others were in attendance.  In addition, Salvors from other parts of the state, such as myself, were also there.
     It was clear that all the salvors present at this meeting were against the sanctuary plan as written, and after much shouting and leveling grievances, one side against the other, it was suggested by the Marine Sanctuary superintendent, Bill Causey, that the salvors form committee to provide input into the Sanctuary plan.

  This was done on the spot, with the salvors present nominating and electing ten representatives.  Although several members have changed, this committee of ten, which we chose to call the Historic Shipwreck Salvage Policy Council (HSSPC), has essentially remained unchanged.  Our members currently consist of Med Fisher, Don Washington, Jack Haskins (who also sits on the Marine Sanctuary citizens Advisory Council), Pat Clyne, P.T. Rampy, Chuck Mitchell, Jay Usher, Gordon Cotrell, and myself.
     I then suggested that, since the Florida Sanctuary management plan and the Florida Submerged Cultural Resource plan were both on the table at the same time, all groups work together to create one plan for all of Florida.  After all, the establishment of man made boundaries, such as the Sanctuary, does nothing to alter a shipwreck's importance or lack therof.  They are still the same sites as they always were.  Of  course, this approach was much too logical and might have resulted in saving time, effort, and the tax payers dollars, so it was swiftly vetoed by the State and Federal bureaucrats present.  I believe that in the final analysis the two plans, when completed, will be substantially the same with very few differences.


 Salvagemaster John Brandon aboard his salvage vessel Endeavor in Fort Pierce, Florida.

     In any event, the first two meetings of our own council were sort of non-directional discussion periods in an effort to more clearly define exactly what our mandate was and how to proceed.  By the third meeting I had decided we must try something more definitive so we could move forward.  Towards that end I drafted, based on existing state and NOAA contracts and permits, sample exploration and recovery contracts for the Marine Sanctuary.  At the next meeting I supplied all members with copies of these documents, and we read and discussed every paragraph, making changes where the majority thought it necessary.
     This meeting became the format of all our future meetings, of which there have been quite a few.  Generally, I would draft the initial documents, P.T. Rampy would then put them in his computer.  He and Pat Clyne would do an initial review and streamlining.  Then we would all meet at Don Washington's house on Tavernier Kew to review and debate what I had written, the final document being accomplished through majority vote.
     Using this procedure, we also critiqued the Sanctuary plan sections line by line.  We also drafted a position statement, archeological guidelines, and division guidelines among other letters and documents.  As we completed these documents we forwarded them to NOAA.  At a meeting of NOAA's own hand-picked Citizens Advisory Council, in Marathon, in 19996 the council voted to approve the changes we had recommended to the Sanctuary plan...much to the dismay of NOAA.  The Advisory Council did this to send a clear message to NOAA to work with the private sector salvors.  NOAA chose mostly to ignore this suggestion.

   Our committee continued to negotiate with Jim Miller in Tallahassee, Ole Varmer the NOAA attorney, and Bruce Terrell the NOAA archeologist/historian,  Finally, some gains were made, but much more needed to be accomplished.
     Since I had already approache4d the Secretary of State's office about the Cultural Resources plan, and had gotten a favorable response, and since the abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 had given states total control of shipwrecks within their territorial waters, I suggested we submit all our documentation to the Secretary of State's office as well as NOAA.  This was agreed upon.  As it turned out this was a fortuitous
   Move, as the Secretary of State's office has been very receptive to many of our suggestions and has worked historical shipwrecks in the Keys continues.

     Secretary of State, Sandra Mortham, appointed her chief cabinet aide, Paul Mitchell, to work with our committee, as well as the Department of Historical Records and NOAA, to come up with a plan that will accommodate everyone as nearly as possible and be in the best interest of the people of Florida and the tax payers.  Of course it will be impossible to please everyone.  Some Federal and State archeologists want absolutely no private sector recovery in the Sanctuary.  On the other hand, some salvors do not want to work under any type or archeological guidelines, no matter how reasonable.  Our committee believed that somewhere in between these two extreme views there must lie a middle ground which would allow all parties to get at least what they want.  The salvors should be able to salvage within the Sanctuary, and the archeologists to ensure that is done in a proper manner.  Everyone would have to give up some things they might have liked...but such is the nature of compromise.                       John Brandon.

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Part 3
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Reprints of "The Best Of Treasure Quest Magazine" are used with permission from a series of stories in Treasure Quest Magazine
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