Klage på Riksantikvarens vedtak etter svalbardmiljøloven § 44 - avslag på søknad om arkeologisk utgraving av fangstlokalitet i Bettybukta, Sør-Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Fangstlokaliteten i Bettybukta på Svalbard (id 132295), er autoamtisk fredet etter svalbardmiljøloven § 33 a. Institutt for arkeologi ved det russiske vitenskapsakademi søkte om å foreta en arkeologisk utgraving av kulturminnet. Søknaden ble begrunnet med at smeltevann var i ferd med å ødelegge lokaliteten. Sysselmannen på Svalbard befarte området og konkluderte med at erosjon ikke utgjorde en umiddelbar fare for kulturminneverdiene på stedet. Riksantikvaren sa seg enig med Sysselmannen og avslo søknaden iht. svalbardmiljøloven § 44. Vedtaket ble påklaget. Departementet har vurdert alle sider av saken og ikke funnet grunn til å omgjøre Riksantikvarens vedtak.

Bettybukta, Sør-Spitsbergen, Svalbard - Formal Complaint about Rejected Application for Emergency Excavation

We refer to your complaint dated January 14th 2011 concerning the above mentioned. The complaint has been considered by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage (the Directorate) which then has been forwarded to the Ministry of the Environment (the Ministry)by letter dated June 15th 2011, cf. the Public Administration Act § 33.

After careful consideration the Ministry has decided not to overrule the decision taken by the Directorate dated January 25th 2011, in accordance with the Act of 15 June 2001 No.79 Relating to the Protection of the Environment in Svalbard (the Svalbard Environmental Act) § 44.

Context

The Archaeological Institute of the Russian Academy of Science has applied to excavate the remains at Bettybukta, registered as ID 132295, with the reason given that they are in danger of being destroyed by erosion from melt water in the summer.

The remains are automatically protected according to the Svalbard Environment Act § 33 a.

The Governor of Svalbard (the Governor) has inspected the site at Bettybukta and advises that, although there is visible erosion, it is not large enough to be an immediate danger to the heritage site. The Governor advises against permission being given.

The Directorate agreed with the Governor that the site is not immediately threatened by erosion.

The complaint

In letter dated February 9th 2011 the complainant states the reasons for the complaint.

He do not agree with the Governor who claims, in letter dated January 13th 2011, that the erosion do not represent an immediate danger to the heritage site, and claims that the extent of the erosion is best observed during the melting season in summer, whereas the Governor visited the site in September. The complainant also claims that the photo material from the site shows “….that the indication of floods are fairly obvious. That the downing process continues”. According to the complainant the photos show that one of the water courses runs straight through the “living dwelling”, and that the entrance to this building is gone, whereas in the survey in 2006 there were some walls left here. Other flooded objects are a burial ground with three skulls lying on the surface.

The Governor of Svalbard’s response to the complaint

In e-mail dated February 10th 2011 the Governor notes that the complaint is based on an interpretation of the size of the melted water channels.  The Governor is of the opinion that it is not necessary to visit the site during the melting season to interpret the danger of erosion. The danger is well documented by the size and direction of the tracks made by the melted water. The tracks show a modest flow of water that will not be a danger to the archaeological remains. It is not correct, as the complainant has interpreted the photo material, that the water runs through “the living dwelling”. It runs in safe distance from the outer limits of these remains.

The three human skulls mentioned in the complaint could not be found at the inspection on the site in September 2010.

The Directorate for Cultural Heritage’s response to the complaint

In letter dated June 15th 2011 the Directorate notes that its practice when it comes to allowing excavation in Svalbard has been restrictive. Immediate danger of loss by erosion could have been a reason to grant permission to excavate the site in Bettybukta.    However, the Directorate supports the Governor’s view of the case, as expressed above, and has not found any new arguments that can support a different ruling than the one given in the letter of January 25th 2011. The future erosion on the site in Bettybukta will be monitored by the Governor, according to the letter from the Governor of January 13th 2011.

The Ministry of the Environment’s response to the complaint

The Svalbard Environmental Act § 38 states as a fundamental principle concerning the cultural heritage that “Structures and sites and movable historical objects in Svalbard shall be protected and safeguarded as a part of Svalbard’s cultural heritage and identity and as an element of a coherent system of environmental management.”

According to §1 the Act’s purpose is “to preserve a virtually untouched environment in Svalbard with respect to continuous areas of wilderness, landscape elements, flora, fauna and cultural heritage”. This implies a restrictive policy when it comes to allowing archaeological research which involves damage on automatically protected archaeological remains.

The Ministry agrees with the Directorate that immediate danger of loss by erosion could be reason to grant permission to excavate a protected site. In this case however, the Ministry concludes with the Governor and the Directorate, that the danger of destruction by erosion at the site in Bettybukta, is not of an extent to represent an immediate danger to the cultural heritage values at the site.

To avoid destruction of these values by future erosion, the Ministry emphasizes the importance of the Governor monitoring the site, cf. letter dated January 13th 2011.

The Ministry has found no reason to express objections against the Directorate’s understanding of the law or it’s consideration of the subject matter.

Conclusion

After careful consideration the Ministry has decided not to overrule the decision taken by the Directorate dated January 25th 2011, in accordance with the Svalbard Environmental Act § 44.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Elisabeth Platou
Deputy Director General

Bengta Ryste
Adviser

Copy:
Riksantikvaren (the Directorate of Cultural Heritage)
Sysselmannen på Svalbard (the Governor of Svalbard)