Sunday, March 15, 2009

Having Input and Saving Sites in NYS

Recently, there was a discussion going on among the members of the NYSAA forum that I thought would be good information for anyone interested in preserving sites in New York State.

The following is a portion of the information provided by Doug Mackey, Vice President of the New York Archaeological Council. Please read and share. You may contact Doug via email at with any questions you might have.

"Anyone interested in archaeology and the preservation of sites should really become familiar with the NHPA (Section 106) process, how it works and how they, even as just interested public citizens, can have input to that process for any project. (Any 106 project is supposed to seek public comment and information, so if you know of sites that are endangered, you have the ability to speak up during that process and ask that the impact of the project on the site be considered, and that alternatives be considered).

Unfortunately, too many folks have not availed themselves of this opportunity, either because they do not want to be bothered, or they simply are not aware that they have the right to make comments. All too often by the time someone decides to speak up, the process has progressed beyond the point where their comments could be helpful.

It seems that most times folks expect the SHPO(State Historic Preservation Offices) to do all the work, but unfortunately, there are many times when the SHPO is not even aware that an issue (site) exists because it has not been reported to them. This sets up an unfortunate loop where the consulting archaeologist hired to do a survey (if one is even called for) checks the SHPO/State Museum records and even (hopefully) talks to the local historian - but information on a site is not known to any of them. The report is then submitted indicating that no sites are present and the SHPO can only review the information provided. It is often only at that point that local avocational archaeologists, collectors, or even academic archaeologists at colleges, universities or even local museums - come forward to complain that a site they know about will now be destroyed. Unfortunately, by that time the agency and the applicant can argue they have done their due diligence and move forward.

I encourage everyone to make the effort to learn a little more about not only the NHPA (Section 106) process, but also NEPA, another federal law that mandates consideration of historic resources (including archaeology) and also provides for public input, as well as other regulations that might be helpful for other types of (non federal) projects - in NY we have the SHPA (Section 14.09) for State projects, and SEQRA for local projects. As a final note, everyone should be aware that each of these laws apply to any projects that might have a federal (or state or local) involvement of any kind - funding, permitting or approval - and not just to projects actually undertaken by a federal agency. As a result, even a private housing development - if it needs a federal permit (i.e. wetland, water quality, etc.) falls under NHPA.

I would encourage everyone interested in preserving sites for the future to make an effort to learn something about this process, to understand how they can get involved, and how they can make a contribution to saving sites. These same laws mandate the consideration of historic buildings, and the community interested in those buildings have made very effective use of the opportunities provided over the years (National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation League of NY, Municipal Arts Society, etc.), unfortunately those of us on the archaeological side have not been nearly as coordinated or successful, at least in most eastern states. Having advocacy groups for archaeological sites, similar to those that exist for structures, taking an active part in making comments might help to raise the overall awareness about and perception of the importance of archaeological sites to agency and local officials that at present do not understand that importance."

A few places you can go to find some more info include -

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation -
Working with 106 (a bit technical for anyone just starting out); and
A Citizens Guide to Section 106 Review

Nina Versaggi then sent me a note to add to this informtion as follows:

"As an addendum to Doug Mackey's note, the New York Archaeological Council and the NYSAA have a joint initiative called, the Archaeological Site Preservation Initiative (ASPI) -

The Archaeological Site Preservation Initiative (ASPI) is a joint program of the New York Archaeological Council and the New York State Archaeological Association. The goal of this program is to help educate local leaders about the importance of archaeological sites in general and more specifically about their local resources that may be endangered by proposed projects. ASPI sends letter to lead agencies and contacts other local individuals and programs to help illustrate to lead agencies that there is a constituency concerned with what happens to archaeological resources. In recent years they have succesfully raised awareness of the presence and importance of archaeological resources to a number of communities. ASPI relies on local individuals to contact them when sites are threatened. Remember that to be effective, notification to the lead agencies (and to ASPI) should occur early in the review process.

Often our heritage is lost, not through deliberate destruction, but through ignorance. The Archaeological Site Preservation Initiative (ASPI) seeks to preserve archaeological and historic sites:

  • by raising awareness of archaeological and historic resources in local communities,
  • by providing a place where questions about archaeology, local history and preservation can be answered.
If people are interested, there is contact information on the web site."

Nina Versaggi
President, NYAC

On behalf of SRAC, I want to thank Doug and Nina for providing the information for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that we always will have to be aware that many items still are undiscovered and that is the items we should be focusing on. I beleive that it should be illegal to own or auction artifacts