Update from Steve Phillips on Alabama Dive Law

Update from Steve Phillips on Alabama Dive Law

I have been going to Montgomery each week to talk to the legislators in the State House. Our bill is HB-54 that has passed the House and now has passed the first committee in the Senate. This week the Governmental Affairs Committee passed HB-54 by a vote of nine yea and two abstentions. No no votes. There are two more news articles this week that tell about what is going on:

Underwater Cultural Act Passes Out of Senate Committee

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

For years a bullet, buckle, arrowhead or any old item found in an Alabama waterway way was considered property of the State of Alabama. The Historical Commission so jealously guard any artifact that picking a arrowhead out of a stream could land a young boy or girl in jail.

Due to an over-zealous interpretation of the law, historical memorabilia has rotted and vanished in the muddy waters of the state.

Rep. Dr. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) has fought to see the law amended, today he passed another milestone as HB54 also known as the Underwater Cultural Resources Act, received a favorable report from the Senate Committee.

The bill was vigorously challenged by the Alabama Historical Commission, a state department created by the State’s Legislature. In the agency’s view, any artifact found in an Alabama waterway is the sole property of the state.

Alabama native, Steve Phillips, a professional diver and author of many books on historical artifacts said he was pleased with the Senate’s findings. Phillips is the only person every arrested and tried under the Historical Commission’s interpretation of the law. Phillips was not found guilt of the offense but was nevertheless, charged and had to defend himself at considerable expense and inconvenience. At the Senate hearing Frank White, executive director of Historical Commission asked, “The question that I have as Executive Director of Historical Commission is what is wrong with the law as it is now? If a diver wants to dive, they come and get a permit from us. They go dive, they find whatever, they bring it up. We will look at it and make a judgement decision about what is historically significant for the state of Alabama and whether it ought to remain with the state, then the diver can take the remaining finds with them.”

Mr. White’s assertion that, “…The diver can take the remaining finds with them,” has not proven to be the case. Even though not convicted the Historical Commission has yet to return Phillip’s property.

During the hearing Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne), asked Director White, “ What about the idea of historical doesn’t have anything to do with the value. So, you could find something that had value that didn’t have historical significance and it would still go to the diver, correct, under the current law?” White answered, “Correct.”

Rep. McClendon later stated that divers have turned over artifacts to the Historical Commission and have found that those items they trusted to the commission were sold and shipped to museums out of state.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) asked White, “From the state point of view or archeologists that work for you…sites that are underwater, what projects does the state have going on now to recover these? Are there any active ones except the one in Mobile Bay? Other than that, There is no state-sponsored recovery of these historical artifacts.”

White responded that he was correct.

McClendon as said on numerous occasions, “The current law is confusing and has caused much consternation among those people who wish to retrieve those artifacts that no one else is going after. The Historical Commission, over the years, has done little to explore, retrieve or preserve these artifacts. Unless these [private citizen divers] people are allowed to do this, the artifacts will stay in the mud and continue to deteriorate and be lost to future generations of Alabamians.”

Two amendments where added to the bill. One provides that no such artifacts are recovered by the process of mechanical and/or hydraulic dredging. The other amendment came from Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) stating, [It] shall be a Class A misdemeanor to violate the provisions of this law. This would be equivalent to a speeding ticket, according to Bedford.

Here’s another article from the Tuscaloosa News:

Warning issued to Alabama Historical Commission

Lawmaker says members should not try to intervene in the legislative process

By Stephanie Taylor and Dana Beyerle, Staff Writers


The bills have had many articles in the newspapers, TV and radio this year. Luckily most of the reporters have spent time enough this time to understand more about what the bills do and not listen to the false claims of our professional archaeologist opponents. I was amazed at the meeting this week to hear what Dr. Frank White who is the new director of the Alabama Historical Commission said. Dr. White is a nice man but he is clueless concerning dive law in Alabama. He should study his own agency’s documents about dive laws. I have twice given him copies of what is allowed and what is not allowed concerning isolated finds underwater on state (public) lands in Alabama. The law is confusing and that is all we are trying to fix.

This is what is allowed according to the AHC and the Alabama Department of Tourism as well as the Conservation Department.

His confusion is what the current bill is trying to fix. Law enforcement officers are confused as much as Dr. White. HB-54 will take out three words (whether or not) that makes the law confusing. What is legal now will be the same as what will be when the bill passes. What we hope to accomplish is to not have confusing words cause the public to be unduly detained. No one is being arrested, because they are violating no law, but several people have been detained for many hours while the law is made clear to the law enforcement officers. Professional archaeologists have been guilty many times of claiming to law enforcement that the public is violating a law. This has been done on dry land on public and private property for many years in an effort to force contractors and individuals as well as state agencies such as the Department of Transportation to hire a professional archaeologist to give permission for any type of construction. Now they want to do the same underwater to make money for the professional archaeologists. Professional archaeologists are involved in any work done on Cultural Resources such as shipwrecks. HB-54 does not change in any way the protection of cultural resources. All current and future cultural resources are controlled and protected by the state.
I understand the frustration of the professional archaeologists. There are too many of them. The colleges turn them out by the thousands and tell them that there are jobs for them when there are very few real jobs for these kids.
Archaeology should be taught as a minor and encouraged as a real great hobby. I am an amateur archaeologist and an amateur historian. That doesn’t mean that I or millions of other people are somehow inferior to the professionals it just means that we have real jobs and enjoy our hobbies for love not money. I don’t blame the kids for wanting to be like Indiana Jones and I don’t blame the parents who foolishly spend huge sums of money on tuition in our colleges only to find that there are no jobs for their kids. I do blame the colleges and professors for misleading our kids. My three children all went to Alabama colleges and studied business or geology. They now run their own business. The colleges should concentrate on graduating students that can provide a service or trade to serve the public. What our country does not need and cannot afford are any more regulators to harass the public. We don’t want them, we don’t need them and we can’t afford them. As far as preserving history goes we amateurs do a much better and cheaper job as well as serving the public better. I am an average collector of artifacts from The War Between The States. I have helped write fifteen books to help identify relics. These books are the standard books used worldwide to identify relics from the War. I have put thousands of relics that I bought or found in public museums to serve the public. I don’t get paid for any of these services. I am also a professional preservationist of artillery projectiles. The largest collections in the south were preserved by me and my sons. Some times I charge and many times I don’t. My interest is in saving history and I know that history is not preserved by letting artifacts rust or erode away in the turbulent rivers of Alabama. I also know that divers will explore our rivers and will find isolated finds. I want these divers to not be afraid to share their knowledge with the public. We don’t need any restrictive rules about isolated finds to intimidate people. They will be happy to share their knowledge and artifacts just as I and millions of others do. We don’t need an incompetent agency to oversee divers or artifacts that they know nothing about. Whether it be arrowheads, bottles, relics or fossils, the public knows best. We write the books, we fill the museums and we don’t cost anything. We also spend a ton of personal money that the state government doesn’t have to. We are good for tourism and spend our money in Alabama businesses instead of going to more friendly states. HB-54 is supported by the Alabama Department of Tourism, the Poarch Indians of Alabama and most museums that are informed about what the bill does. We have 77,000 miles of waterways that need to be explored by our over 100,000 divers. I am 66 years old now and pretty far up the trail but I anxiously await exciting historical information that will be found by our divers (aquanauts).
Please continue to Support HB54 and forward this email to your friends and post on all interested web pages, facebook and blogs.
Help us Save Our Lost History.
Steve Phillips
Southern Skin Divers Supply



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