Working with cultural and historic sites can be a sensitive proposition. In a recent example, the federal government requested a temporary cessation of the Dakota Access oil pipeline that runs through the reservation of an American Indian tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has drawn thousands to join their protest, challenged the US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits for the pipeline at more than 200 water crossings. Tribal leaders allege that the project violates several federal laws and will harm water supplies, in addition to disturbing sacred ancient sites during construction.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) mandates that agencies involved in a federal or federally assisted project address the potential effects of their undertakings on culturally significant and/or historic properties. This means a project involving any federal funds or permit must take into account cultural and historic resources that are included or may be included in the National Register.
It’s important to note the act mandates the federal government, not everyone, to comply. If a project only involves private monies, on private land, and no federal permit is required, it does not have to comply with Section 106. Other laws/regulations could still apply so please consult with a cultural resource specialist before disturbing a cultural or historic site.
Often, when addressing cultural or historic resources on a project, several steps should be taken.
- Planning is key. Locations of National Register sites are publically available datasets – a good place to start. Archeologists also have access to restricted databases that identify other cultural resource sites and surveys, helping you understand which areas to avoid even before field surveying.
- An intensive, on-the-ground archeological survey is generally the next step before a project goes to construction. This involves shovel testing and even backhoe trenching to identify cultural resource sites and artifacts.
- If a cultural resource site is identified, then site information is sent to the State Historic Preservation Officer for review and determination if the site is eligible for inclusion on the National Register.
- If the site is not eligible, then the project can go on. If this site is eligible, then the project will need to be rerouted or reconfigured, or the site will need to be mitigated/recovered.
- Site mitigation or recovery involves an intensive effort to fully excavate and catalog the site.
Following these steps will ensure preservation of a site and keep your name out of the headlines.
About the author
- As an environmental scientist, Kate has more than 13 years of experience including ecological surveys and field studies, functional assessments, preparing environmental reports and permits, data management, stream channel and wetland restoration, peer reviewed research, and coordinating with local, state, and federal regulatory agencies, as well as public and private stakeholders.