IMPORTANT Preservation Legislation – WE NEED YOUR HELP

Do you follow Preservation Action for updates on preservation policy? It’s a good idea to do so, because as you know, legislation can make all the difference for preservation funding and government action. While much of preservation happens at the local level, the federal level carries much influence as well. A recent update that is worth your time:

MILITARY LAND ACT WOULD AMEND NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION ACT (and not in a good way) 

The summary and suggestion from Preservation Action (see their press release and an update):

Thursday, May 8, 2014, the House Natural Resources Committee will mark up H.R. 3687, the Military LAND Act.

This bill would amend the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 to allow federal agencies to block and rescind the listing of federal properties on the National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmarks, and on the World Heritage List for national security reasons.

Maureen Sullivan of the Department of Defense and Stephanie Toothman of the National Park Service both testified in opposition to the bill on April 29, 2014.

Preservation Action, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation wrote the Public Lands and Environment Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Member outlining preservationists’ concerns and opposition to the bill.

Stop Congress from taking steps to undermine historic preservation. Please write members of the House Natural Resources Committee and ask them to oppose this harmful bill.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Now is the time to contact legislators whether via a letter, email or phone call. Preservation is powerful when people speak up. The U.S. Military owns vast tracts of historic properties across the nation. As an example, the Army owns over 20,000 buildings considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. And that is only one military branch.

WHAT SHOULD YOU WRITE? Preservation Action suggests this letter (copy & paste, and email – it’s that easy!)

May 7, 2014

Dear (Representative or Senator Name):

I am deeply concerned with H.R. 3687, the Military LAND Act. This bill would amend the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 to allow federal agencies to block and rescind the listing of federal properties on the National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmarks, and on the World Heritage List for national security reasons. H.R. 3687 wrongly raises alarm that designation of historic sites weakens the authority of federal agencies to protect our national security. There is nothing that imposes any legal constraint on federal agencies to protect the interests of national security.

In addition, the bill creates a new requirement of Congressional review that could unfairly politicize the process of evaluating historic significance which has existed without issue for the past nearly 50 years.

The NHPA provides the direction and tools to protect our historic resources and, importantly, sets up a clear process of consideration of our historic heritage. Federal, state, and local governments use the NHPA to identify, preserve and protect our historical, architectural, archeological and cultural resources. The National Register of Historic Places is currently comprised of more than 88,000 listings. Listing a property or determining the eligibility of a property for the National Register does not limit a federal agencies authority.

Please do not undermine our nation’s historic preservation. I ask you to oppose H.R. 3687 and any provisions that would weaken the NHPA.

Regards,

(Your Name)

I wrote my senator. Will you?

Old House v. Historic House

Is that an old house? Is that a historic house? Is that the same question?

Well, they are often used interchangeably in passing, casual conversations, but actually there is a definite distinction between the two: old & historic.

Work in historic preservation is defined from the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 (since amended) (legal code 16 U.S.C 470). In the law, “historic property” or “historic resource” means any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object included in, or eligible for inclusion on the National Register, including artifacts, records, and material remains related to such a property or resource.  In other words, a “historic” house would be one only if it is on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Historic means “historically significant.”

The brief explanation of how properties are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places is that they (generally) must be at least 50 years old and they must have contributed to or played a significant role in national heritage. The longer explanation involves four criteria for evaluation and seven criteria considerations, which can be read here or in National Register Bulletin 15. A side note, most houses are not on the National Register, although they may be listed on a local or state register.

What about the definition for old? That can be a house that has reached the 50 year mark, but is not historically significant. Of course, that is not the say the house is insignificant to its occupants, but in terms of the National Register and the NHPA, it doesn’t count. The distinction is made to assist rulings of the NHPA as well as to assist with tax credits from the National Park Service.

While “old” and “historic” could certainly be discussed more, those are the easy definitions. Still, old houses, even if not historic by NHPA standards, are still important to our heritage and deserve to be loved and maintained. A building not on the National Register doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not eligible – maybe it hasn’t been nominated. If research reveals arguments for national significance, give it a try!

Any other thoughts on the definitions of old or historic?