So basically you got into a pissing match with another cacher and you decided to one up her by going to the big dogs and managed to get caching banned on all VDOT property. That's pretty much what others have said but with a lot less words.
At least you feel good about it.
It seems obvious to me that the only reason the Department of Transportation would even be aware of geocaching is because there were caches placed in such a way that it was hazardous to look for them. Is there a way we could encourage people to consider our impact on traffic safety (for other states, the damage is done in Virginia) or do we have to rely on the usually unreliable common sense?
Nope VaGriz. It's not the reason VDOT is aware of them. A local cacher decided to take it upon himself to challenge the placement of one cache without asking the CO about the hide. VDOT had not choice but to issue a blanket statement that covered all their property. It was senseless and vindictive. Appears to be a personal attack which is resulting in the archival of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of caches across the Commonwealth.
Having grown tired of reading the misstatements and incorrect claims made in this matter I've decided that I will comment.
First and foremost, what you read sprinkled throughout this thread about claims of a cacher taking action without asking the CO about the hide is incorrect. And the cacher did not at any time accuse the CO of altering the sign in which the cache was located.
So let's lay out the actual facts, opposed to the fiction or warped perspectives presented:
Fact: I logged the cache. The cache was located along a state highway located within the city limits of Smithfield, VA. Then having thought better of it (a cache placed in a hole running through the entire base of the sign, located about two feet from the curb on a state highway - the more I thought about it, the more I questioned it), and wondering how exactly the CO would have received permission to place a cache inside of a highway sign, I started asking questions. I first contacted both the Virginia State Police who indicated that placing the cache there was not allowed (well, they had stronger terms for it, but that's for later). I confirmed that then by (at the Virginia State Police's suggestion) contacting VDOT's help center. I was told that permission had not been given to place a cache in a VDOT sign or on any VDOT property. I asked what rules or laws were involved. Both the police and VDOT cited a particular Virginia Code (more on that below) and also indicated that it could also be considered to be trespassing on state property.
Brief interlude from the above and below facts: This is also factual, but it will most likely help before going further in understanding why I wasn't so eager to just zing off an email to the CO. Prior to this incident, some time in the recent past, this particular cacher had been seeking one of my own caches. She lost the cache (dropped it inside of a metal pole, and the cache was damaged beyond repair because of that). And the cacher had also LOGGED it as found, despite the fact that she'd knew that she'd never signed the log. After spending about an hour digging the cache container out of the pole, I then deleted her "found it" log entry, and then received nasty emails even after I explained that she needed to sign the log. In reply she posted a log note saying that she was frustrated that I'd deleted her log after she was the one to alert me to the problem with the cache being dropped in the pole (ah huh - she loses the cache and then told me she lost it and then thinks that this somehow gets her "bonus points" with a CO?). So this incident (the current situation with VDOT) has NOTHING whatsoever to do with my being vindictive toward this cacher/CO, it has everything to do with the cacher/CO being unpleasant in emails and also being unreasonable. This is ALSO the same cacher who posted a thread (just check her forum posts) to question about whether I was allowed to place a beacon cache that required a capable GPS to find it (vs. also providing an alternative way to find it). That was after she first posted a negative comment in the cache log of my beacon cache - despite never even having searched for it. So it seems to me that this is all about this cacher/CO being vindictive, not me being vindictive toward her.
Fact: After considering all things I then logged a NA on the cache. I was told by a reviewer that this was the correct thing to do. And as suggested by the police, I cited the applicable state code. I included pictures so that it would be clear for anyone to see where the cache was and why it needed to be archived. That NA log did not say that the CO did any damage to the sign, I simply said that as I was told, that was the code that covered doing things like placing a geocache in a highway sign.
Fact: Groundspeak Guidelines 6.12 "Permanent Removal: Archiving a Cache" states that, "If you feel that a cache listing needs to archived, log onto the cache page, use "log your visit" and select the log type, "needs archived". Please explain in your log why the listing needs to be archived. This log will be received by both the cache owner and a local reviewer" and "Please use this log only when there are serious problems with the cache or its location." Yes, it does also later say, "Please consider first contacting the owner of the geocache with your concerns" but the process is in place for something serious to submit the NA, and the forum is full of threads where cachers were advised to submit a NA related to caches that involve trespass and such, and so that seemed to fit this situation as something similar and something serious. Having been told by the Virginia State Police that if they found someone at that sign, placing or removing the cache that they may well be cited under the state code certainly seemed to be a "serious problem" and the fact that no permission had been received seemed to support the VDOT assertion that it would be trespassing. And the NA is certainly utilized to report caches that would involve trespassing. Refer to the above explanation as to why it was preferable to not otherwise contact the CO.
Fact: The CO then sent me an email threatening me with a lawsuit for libel, claiming that I had stated that the CO had committed a "criminal act." The NA log said no such thing. Again, this supports my concern that the CO would act in this way, and why I wasn't going to send an email to the CO (a NA is a nice official record, an email isn't).
Fact: Based on the CO's email (threat) I then re-looked at the NA log, and didn't understand her reaction to that, nor why she considered that to be libel. I decided that I would reword the NA log to ensure that it was absolutely clear to anyone reading it by directly stating that I was NOT saying that the CO had damaged the sign, just that the cache wasn't allowed under that code. And BTW, as I understand it and was told that code was the correct code as it was the code about doing things to signs. (Yes, being vague for a reason - and for the record, again state that I'm not claiming that the CO committed a criminal act or such.)
Fact: The CO responded to me by email restating that I had committed libel, and had somehow accused the CO of a criminal act and that unless I deleted the log that the CO intended to take legal action against me. I also told the CO that it was the Virginia State Police that had said that the code I cited to was applicable, and the CO's response was to then say that what the "officer told you (me) was totally irrelevant." The CO then deleted the NA log.
Fact: When I'd received that email and saw the new log entry the next morning, I immediately apologized to the CO for her belief that I had accused her of a criminal act, that I didn't intend to do that and didn't believe that I had, but was apologizing if that's the way that it was somehow taken. I also restated that it was my belief that the cache was not authorized to be located where it was. The CO replied, accepting my apology, and then chastised me for not having contacted her first. It was clear however that the CO had no intention of removing or moving the cache, and she had already deleted the NA log.
Fact: The CO had begun posting in a caching forum, and it was clear from the specific things said that not only was the CO not going to remove the cache (such as claiming that this was about a hole, that this was because I was an inexperienced cacher, or that by the twisted logic that there were caches like that all over Virginia and that this somehow made it right), but that others thought that it was okay to have caches in highway signs, etc. The CO also posted derogatory things, and things that I believe were clearly not factual.
Fact: As it was apparent that the CO would not remove the cache and did not have permission to place that cache, I then contacted a reviewer and passed along the information that VDOT had provided to me. The reviewer stated agreement about the cache being prohibited. THE REVIEWER asked if I had any information on the the particular rule that VDOT was citing to. I said that VDOT hadn't provided that information but volunteered to the reviewer to ask VDOT for that and was encouraged by the reviewer to recontact VDOT.
Fact: I then recontacted the VDOT help line and they indicated that they would have a VDOT representative contact me. I was then contacted by VDOT and I spoke at length with that individual. The person that I spoke with knew exactly what geocaching was through friends who are cachers. The VDOT representative indicated that VDOT does not and would not give permission to place caches on or in VDOT signs. They asked about the location of the cache so that they could confirm that this was a sign owned or controlled by VDOT, and as that was public information readily available I provided that to them. I told the VDOT representative that our local reviewer had asked for any documentation of the rule and VDOT indicated that they would issue a letter and asked if I could pass that along to our reviewers and such. I agreed to pass along their information and said that I'd also forward the letter to the reviewer.
Fact: I then provided the detailed information received verbally from VDOT to a local reviewer and also provided the VDOT contact information so that the reviewer could directly contact VDOT. I also told the reviewer that VDOT indicated that they intended to remove the cache as soon as possible as they were concerned for safety reasons with that cache being located where it was. It appears that the reviewer didn't further contact the CO, of if there was contact I am not aware of it.
Fact: VDOT removed the cache. Another cacher noticed the cache missing and logged a NM on the cache. The CO responded to the NM log and indicated that the cache would be replaced. I asked a reviewer about it and was told that the reviewer needed specific information from VDOT to "convince" the cache owner. My understanding of that discussion is that the CO having been told that VDOT requested the cache be removed was demanding proof or such.
Fact: Over the next two weeks or so I continued asking VDOT for their letter and on 4/11/11, they provided that letter which I then immediately forwarded to our local reviewers, to Groundspeak and also provided to a local geocaching forum. As the letter indicated much more than I had asked about (which was limited to highway signs), I recontacted VDOT and asked them to clarify about what was VDOT property and their reply was that their rule included anything on roadways in Virginia ("sign, guardrail, bridge, light post, etc."). I was also told that VDOT as a state agency had authority over all other local jurisdictions (based on preeminence over local governments as Virginia is a "Dillon Rule" state), and was told that VDOT could have directed Smithfield to remove the cache but chose to remove it themselves as they wanted it done immediately. It is my understanding that they also began looking for other similar caches, both physically and through searching geocaching listings.
Fact: As I had been previously told that guardrail caches were okay, and had even been told by a very experienced cacher that you didn't need permission, I had a few (4) of my own. Upon receipt of the VDOT letter and learning otherwise, I archived my own four guardrail caches. And I have also recently archived one on a historical sign, as from what I can now see it appears that VDOT has control over those as well even though they are owned by another agency.
Fact: Groundspeak then archived the cache ("Archiving at the request of the Virginia DOT."). The CO then asked for permission to replace and relocate the cache (and from the CO's post further above in this thread that sounds like it was done through an Appeal). I then recontacted VDOT to ask whether in this particular case relocating the cache to the area adjacent to the sign was still considered placing the cache on VDOT property, and I was told that this would also be prohibited as the right of way was also VDOT property. VDOT expressed frustration that even with having issued a letter that the cache was still on VDOT property, and they also knew that this same cacher still had another cache of the same kind, also in a highway sign, and also located in the vicinity. I then passed that information to a reviewer.
Fact: Despite the VDOT letter prohibiting caches on property owned or controlled by VDOT, and despite everyone involved being aware of that, seven days after VDOT had issued the letter prohibiting the caches, a local reviewer unarchived the cache so that the cache could be relocated to the VDOT property located adjacent to the sign. And at the same time a discussion took place in at least one forum, with participants arguing against VDOT and outright attacking me. And various things were said, by multiple parties, misstating the facts, including assertions that the letter wasn't legitimate or that it didn't somehow apply (and even to this day, at least one blogger out there vows to determine from VDOT if their letter was legitimately issued by VDOT, implying - I assume - that I what, faked a VDOT letter???).
Fact: VDOT was already aware of other caches that were in violation of their rule, including one other cache owned by this CO. VDOT was also aware that despite having provided their notification about the caches being prohibited and knowing that this one particular cache had been specifically brought to the attention of Groundspeak and reviewers, that the cache was still active and located on VDOT property, and that no permission had been given to place it in either the first location or the second location. And they knew that no action had been taken regarding the second cache, which was ALSO located in a highway sign. VDOT was now also following the forum discussions and had learned about a heated discussion where CO's indicated that they didn't intend to comply with VDOT's rule and that no caches were being removed. IMHO, the "final straw" was that some CO's actually posted in the forum to encourage cachers to go out and find all of those caches before they were eventually forced to archive them. I was told by VDOT that VDOT senior management had determined to escalate the issue since their previous letter was being ignored. I was directly asked by VDOT to confirm that they had the correct information for sending legal correspondence to Groundspeak. And I presume that as a result of that, the letter from the Virginia Attorney General was then sent to VDOT.
Fact: I did nothing whatsoever to attempt to influence VDOT. I did not discuss these caches other than to ask if we had permission to place them. I mention this because some folks in our local forum threads have actually accused me of somehow turning VDOT against geocaching. Of course those same folks also believe that I somehow am able to get the Attorney General to send a letter to Groundspeak.
So, the factual summary is that:
- VDOT has stated that the CO did not have permission to place the cache in the VDOT sign
- The CO was contacted IAW Groundspeak guidelines through a NA log
- CO threatened to sue me, then deleted the NA log
- CO did not remove the cache and even attempted to replace it after VDOT removed the cache
- VDOT issued letter to say that caches on VDOT property or VDOT controlled property were prohibited
- CO then went ahead and replaced the cache and moved it from the VDOT sign to the VDOT property adjacent to the sign
- CO also did not remove the OTHER cache located in another nearby highway sign
- Because the CO refused to comply with the VDOT request, and seeing that other caches on VDOT property were not being removed, VDOT management then sought legal assistance from the Attorney General
And THAT'S why VDOT did what they did. Cachers never had permission to do what they did, and VDOT apparently simply wasn't aware of those caches (well, actually, apparently at least ONE VDOT employee who is also a local cacher knew and chose to defend the CO and spoke out against the VDOT policy, and I assume that didn't go well for him). But that didn't make it right, and there is no excuse for CO's and cachers to whine away about something that shouldn't have been to begin with.
Now the CO and multiple other cachers are complaining that for whatever reason, they are now being prohibited from having caches where they never had permission to place caches to begin with. And any claims that these CO's would have responded positively to emails seems rather bogus, given that even though they all now know that the caches are prohibited we're not seeing a flurry of archiving taking place despite pleas from reviewers that they do so. Instead, they're posting that they should join together to meet with and educate VDOT about geocaching in hopes that VDOT will then now determine that caches on VDOT owned or controlled property are now not a safety issue. Good luck with that.
But for the most part, these are the same cachers who complained when I submitted NAs on a cache placed at the airport (which Groundspeak ultimately had to retract the listing because a reviewer wouldn't do so), caches on fire hydrants, caches at sewage treatment facilities (posted no trespassing), and so on. And that's not counting the rash of FTF hounds that we've had recently, entering parks after closing time (which is trespassing here locally, and posted as such). And at least some of these complainers are the same ones who when I was asked by a reviewer to organize an event where the local police would meet with cachers to discuss their concern for these same issues, nobody wanted to do that. (Side note, I was asked to do that because I am actively involved in local crime prevention activities where these very kind of issues are discussed - hence the reason why I tend to pay attention to them myself.)
I'm certainly not the only person who takes the time to submit a NA or to contact a reviewer when a cache doesn't seem right. But I am apparently the scapegoat for what happens when cachers lacked any permission to put caches in places that compromise public safety (according to VDOT and the Attorney General of Virginia) and then apparently worked especially hard to really tick the VDOT PTB's off.
My intent in posting (this long reply) isn't to get involved in yet another discussion (frankly I probably won't even further monitor the thread) with those who apparently are seriously lacking in clues, it's just to set the record straight as I'm tired of reading all the misrepresentations and such.
Thanks for listening.