RIMAP is not "terminated."

Published by Kathy Abbass on Monday, 4th March 2019 - 12:00PM

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THE NEWS OF RIMAP'S DEMISE IS PREMATURE

A special message to RIMAP members, supporters, and the general public.

For almost a year RIMAP has been under siege by the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (HPHC) and others to terminate the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that named RIMAP as the State's exclusive agent to conduct the studies of the  British transport fleet scuttled in Newport's Outer Harbor in 1778, during the American Revolution. 

The attempt to terminate RIMAP's exclusive right to study all the Newport transport fleet is separate from the permit application to conduct the planned 2019 Endeavour research, and RIMAP has received a provisional permit to conduct that research. The provision is that RIMAP must have a proper artifact management facility in place to take care of any materials retrieved during the test excavations, and the new space at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol is prepared with that in mind. The termination attempt is a separate issue from RIMAP's continued leadership of the Endeavour study, and does not mean RIMAP is out of business.

The Memorandum of Agreement between RIMAP and the HPHC is a contract created in 1999 because RIMAP had done the original historical studies about that fleet, RIMAP had done enough archaeological research to show that there should be a number of these vessels still in place, and RIMAP had published the evidence to prove that the Lord Sandwich transport had been Capt. Cook's Endeavour Bark. 

It was RIMAP's information that the then Attorney General (Sheldon Whitehouse, now RI's junior US Senator) used in federal court for the State of RI to take title to "all the non-motorized wooden vessels" in Newport's Outer Harbor and for the federal judge to specifically recognize RIMAP's work on behalf of the State in this matter. Therefore, the State of RI now owns the transports (including the Endeavour when she is identified); the HPHC was named the custodian of the vessels on behalf of the State; and RIMAP was named the State's exclusive agent to conduct all research related to the whole fleet.

When all of this took place in 1999 RIMAP had studied only one of those transports, but we had found another and our remote sensing data suggested where we would find more in the 2 square miles where the ships were scuttled. With the exclusive right to study that fleet in place, RIMAP then raised the money, engaged the professional archaeologists, trained and organized the volunteers, continued the archival studies, and conducted the fieldwork to locate and map 10 of the 13 vessels known to have been in that fleet. Now we are closing in on what we believe may be the Endeavour, too. 

Unlike institutions of higher education and commercial cultural resource management companies, RIMAP is a not-for-profit organization that trains members of the public to participate in professionally directed marine archaeology research. Over the past 28 years, more than 900 individuals have participated in RIMAP projects, on land and under water in RI, and in MA and CT,, too. RIMAP's partner for the Newport transport project has been the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), because of Australia's special interest in the Endeavour as their founding vessel. ANMM archaeologists have intermittently participated in RIMAP's Newport research over the past 20 years, and in the past 5 years the ANMM has also issued grants to help defray some of RIMAP's Newport fieldwork costs.

RIMAP's cash expenses and in-kind donations for the Newport project have totaled more than $5.5 million, and the cost to the ANMM has been more than half a million, too, for a total of $6 million for the Newport transport study alone. If RIMAP's projects elsewhere in the state are considered, that would add at least another $2 million to the value of all RIMAP activities on the State's behalf. In addition, all of RIMAP's work has been done without financial support from the Rhode Island State budget.

RIMAP WOULD NOT HAVE INVESTED SO HEAVILY IN THE NEWPORT PROJECT WITHOUT HAVING THE EXCLUSIVE RIGHT TO CONDUCT THE RESEARCH.  

Despite this long history of the partnership between RIMAP and the HPHC through the MOA, the new HPHC Director decided soon after his arrival that he was not satisfied with that contract. His only reason given has been that he disapproves of one entity having control of so many archaeological sites. This overlooks the fact that these shipwrecks are all part of an archaeological assemblage (they were scuttled together for the same purpose), he does not respect the fact that RIMAP incorporates Rhode Island citizens into a program to allow those citizens access to their property, and he certainly overlooks RIMAP's investments of finances, time, and human resources in a project of national significance (the transports are part of Revolutionary War history in Rhode Island), and the one site that is of international significance (the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour®).

The HPHC had no proper cause to try to terminate the MOA, although RIMAP agreed that its contents should be updated with information about RIMAP's progress over the past years of the study. Unfortunately, when the termination letter was released to the media, the public assumed that it meant that RIMAP had done something improper to generate the termination, that RIMAP was no longer conducting the Endeavour study, or that RIMAP had gone out of business entirely. Nothing could be further from the truth.

RIMAP's research has always complied with state, federal, and even international guidelines for the ethical practice of archaeology, and the attempt at termination has damaged the reputations of the professional archaeologists who are part of the RIMAP teams. The attempt at termination has also done great damage to RIMAP's fund-raising efforts in local and international venues, and especially it has damaged its partnerships with companies who have been generous with their in-kind support. Unfortunately, the biggest losers are the citizens who are RIMAP's volunteers, the citizens who are in fact the owners of the transports, and the citizens  who can have access to their property only through RIMAP's unique programs of public inclusion. 

When the HPHC issued the termination letter, RIMAP had to engage a lawyer to defend itself from this action. RIMAP's lawyer determined that, based on the original documents that supported Senator Whitehouse's actions in federal court, there is no proper cause for the termination attempt, that the termination attempt did not acknowledge the federal court's original reasons for naming RIMAP as the State's agent, and that the termination attempt did not follow the procedure as defined by the language of the original agreement. 

The established procedure for termination of the MOA included the requirement that both parties agree to the termination. 

RIMAP does not agree.

One particularly worrisome part of this action was that the HPHC Director decided to terminate the MOA without prior notification to RIMAP. There was no opportunity for RIMAP to explain why the arrangement was made in the first place, how it has worked over the  years, and how it might be improved going forward. The only indication to RIMAP that the HPHC was considering a termination attempt was a query from Ryan Belmore at What'sUpNewport. The HPHC Director went about this action in a way that was not how  equal partners should treat each other. 

Therefore, RIMAP does not accept the recent HPHC actions as a proper termination of its position as the exclusive agent for the study of the Newport transport fleet.

This is the ugly side of competitive archaeology, especially since previous to this attempt at termination, RIMAP had to defend its professional archaeologists from the slander of a jealous local colleague. This is the sort of nasty behavior exhibited by individuals at major research institutions searching for the cure for cancer, or to win a Nobel Prize -- not by archaeologists who study historic shipwrecks in Rhode Island. And it is particularly curious that the slander came before the termination attempt, and that both emerged in the year that RIMAP expects to conduct the work that should be the culmination of its 20 years of effort in Newport Harbor, and that may lead to the identification of the Endeavour

Despite these challenges, RIMAP has continued to create its artifact management facility at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, RI, RIMAP has hired the trained artifact conservator from Texas A&M who joined the staff on July 8, and RIMAP volunteers are signing up to participate in what should be another exciting season of archaeological research. 

Therefore: NEWS OF RIMAP's DEMISE IS PREMATURE.

D. K. Abbass, Ph.D., Executive Director and Principal Investigator

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Below is the full schedule for RIMAP's 2019 research sent to RIMAP volunteer earlier this spring. Note RIMAP volunteers participate in many fieldwork projects, not just the Endeavour in Newport's Outer Harbor. 

2019 RIMAP FIELDWORK SCHEDULE

General::

  • All volunteers must be 2019 RIMAP members and have completed our Intro class. Our advanced classes are recommended, but not required.
  • All volunteers must fill out the medical form. New volunteers please contact us at rhodeislandmap@yahoo.com for the form. Then fill it out, and bring it with you. Experienced RIMAP members will update their forms already on file. 
  • All volunteers must sign the Liability Release Form and the Non-Disclosure Statement. 
  • Teamwork is stronger if participation can be for a whole session. If you can only be with us for fewer days than scheduled, then please let us know so we can plan around your absence.
  • Please sign up at least 3 days prior to any session, and earlier if possible. Confirmation of your slot will be by email. Last minute requests will be considered on a case by case basis.
  • We usually know 2 days before a session if there will be enough volunteers to make it work. If not, you will be notified at that time. Sometimes sessions are cancelled at the last minute due to weather.
  • All sessions start at least by 9 a.m. and usually go until about 4-5 p.m. Please plan to be there for the whole day.
  • Bring your own lunch and non-alcoholic beverages, and any necessary personal gear.
  • Some of the projects are non-diving and therefore are open to any qualified RIMAP volunteer.
  • There are usually non-diving team support tasks for the diving sessions, too; ask about those if you would like volunteer for a particular session.
  • All fieldwork will be in Rhode Island, and specific locations are determined by current conditions and research needs. 
  • RIMAP provides all field gear and administrative support.

For Divers:

  • All divers must be properly certified and experienced.
  • DAN insurance is recommended.
  • All divers must complete a RIMAP check-out dive (see schedule).
  • All divers must provide their own equipment in good working order

Non-Fieldwork:

  • This year we need volunteers to participate as docents during the Newport Harbor fieldwork in August-September, to meet the public and work with the conservator as artifacts are retrieved from the site and undergo their first documentation.
  • There are also many tasks at the new RIMAP facility at the Herreshoff Museum and those are scheduled as time allows. Contact rhodeislandmap@yahoo.com  for details.

The 2019 Fieldwork Schedule: Location, start times, and other details will be sent with confirmation.

Note: In general about half of the schedule that RIMAP posts every year doesn't mature due to weather or other unpredictable circumstances..

_____ Saturday June 29 - Monitoring sites in Newport (may also be a check-out dive)

_____ Sunday July 7 - Monitoring sites in Newport (may also be a check-out dive)

_____ Saturday-Sunday, July 13-14 - New project in Newport (may also be a check-out dive)

_____ Saturday-Sunday, July 20-21 - New project in Newport (may also be a check-out dive)

_____ Saturday-Wednesday, July 27-31 - Non-diving at Warwick's Gaspee Point ^

_____ Saturday-Sunday, August 3-4 - Location TBA

_____ Saturday-Sunday, August 10-11 - Location TBA

_____ Thursday-Sunday, August 22-25 - Newport Transport Study (Prep work) *

_____ Monday-Friday, August 26-30 - Newport Transport Study *

_____ Tuesday-Friday, September 3-6 - Newport Transport Study *

_____ Saturday-Sunday, September 7-8 - Newport Transport Study *

_____ Monday-Tuesday, September 9-10 - Newport Transport Study *

_____ Wednesday-Friday, September 11-13 - Newport Transport Study (Weather days, site close-out and media event?) *

^ The Gaspee Point project usually finishes in a couple of days, but this year we also need to plan the a publication of the Greene Island study.

* Depends on securing a permit from the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.

Please fill out and return by email to rhodeislandmap@yahoo.com. See you soon!

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