Section 106 & Section 4(f) Exemptions from the Exemption

Exemption from the exemption? If you’re in the regulatory + infrastructure world, you’ve likely come across this. If you are not, step into our world for a few minutes.

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The “grasshopper bridge” in Lyndon, VT, carries Route 5 over I-91 and is an exemption to the Section 106 & Section 4(f) exemption. Meaning, this bridge is subject to project review, even though I-91 is not.

By law (the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966), all projects that receive federal funding are subject to review under Section 106. Review includes identifying historic resources that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Any project receiving transportation funding is required to be evaluated under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.

But, what happens when one of largest resources in the nation becomes eligible for the National Register? By that I mean the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (more commonly known as the Interstate Highway System). This 46,700 mile interstate highway system became eligible for the National Register on June 29, 2006, which was its 50th birthday. (Read more about Interstate history here.)

As a transportation resource, this would typically require Section 106 and Section 4(f) review on this historic resource. Imagine the amount of project review that would have spurred as a result. A majority of work on the interstate is simply paving or repairs or line striping. Basically, this had the potential to bring unnecessary paperwork and delays to state and federal levels.

Instead, the bulk of the Interstate Highway System was declared exempt from being considered a historic resource under Section 106 and Section 4(f). In other words, the Interstate Highway System was exempt from project review. This is addressed under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU, Public Law 109-59, Aug. 10, 2005) / provision (Section 6007).

However, this exemption has exemptions! Elements of the Interstate Highway System that exhibit a national level of significance, as defined by the National Register of Historic Places, are not considered exempt, and will require project review. States submitted properties for consideration, and the final list was determined by the ACHP (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration). Find your state here.

Vermont has three elements, including the “grasshopper bridge” on I-91. Officially it is a steel rigid-frame bridge (built 1970) significant for its engineering. See the photograph at the top of this post. The official statement of significance is,

“This type of bridge is very rare on interstates in New England. In Vermont, two are on I-91; one each on northbound and southbound lanes carrying the interstate over Rte. 9 in Lyndon, Vermont. As of inspection on 01/12/05, structurally both bridges are in very good condition. Engineering-wise, this style was an experiment in 1960 and 1970 to determine if steel construction could take the variable weight loadings of an interstate environment. It was designed by a New York City firm, Blauvelt Engineering Co., and received a merit award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1974. The overall length of the bridges is 227 feet, 6 inches.”

Sadly, the steel arched deck truss in Brattleboro, VT that carries I-91 over the Williams River was not included in the list. It is uncommon bridge in Vermont, but not uncommon elsewhere on the interstate. Thus, it’s significance was not national. And when the bridge came up for replacement, no preservation law could save it. Thus, while not every bridge or element could be saved, the list is substantial, and better than exempting the entire system. Does your state have an interstate exemption? Have you seen it? Has your interstate lost an element not on the list?

Historic Preservation Month, Big Box Stores, Preservation Tools

{Author’s note: an earlier version of this post has been altered for the purpose of education and advocacy rather than partial rant. This method – as in, not a rant – of writing is much more effective for the mission of historic preservation; I apologize for straying from the PiP mission on such important issues. I hope that the information in this post will encourage you to consider historic significance of our built environment and how to engage your community members along with how to appreciate and employ preservation regulations where appropriate.}

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May is National Historic Preservation Month. This year, four of the largest big box chain stores – Walmart, Target, Kmart and Kohls, turn 50 years old. These chain stores have changed the face and culture of America, so Preservation Month seems like a fitting time to discuss some related issues, including: (1) big boxes reaching 50 years in age and potential significance; (2) big box and chain store sprawl; and (3) the power that citizens have through historic preservation regulations to fight sprawl and poor development.

{This is a long post, but such length is necessary for this discussion.}

From the National Trust Main Street Center’s Facebook page. Click to visit.

First: Big box stores? 50 years old? Wouldn’t that mean they are old enough to be evaluated for significance and eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places? Technically, yes. Don’t get too excited, however. While the original stores may be eligible for evaluation, this does not mean that every single big box chain store is or will ever be historic. You will recall that a determination of historic significance is based on an evaluation of the seven aspects of integrity as related to criteria of eligibility. In other words, these original stores would need to have a high level of integrity in order to be historically significant. So, it is my opinion that yes, the flagship stores of chains that changed America, might be historically significant. Why? Because significant resources are not limited to the rose-colored-glasses-view standard. As for the hundreds and thousands of subsequent chain stores? Probably not. What do you think?

Ironically, the first Walmart store – Waltons five and dime – now serves as the Walmart visitors’ center in Bentonville, AK, which is a historic district.

Related to big box stores, though different, are strip malls. I’ve recently come across blogs, such as Pleasant Family Shopping, that are dedicated to preserving the history of strip malls. An interesting concept, yes? America would not be the same without strip malls, for better or worse. I’d venture to say that the history of the strip mall is more important than the physical building itself. Do you agree? When is history more important than the actual place? Thus, those thousands of big box retail giant buildings are not significant, even though the story is. In the case of defunct and empty box stores, the argument for reuse is best left in the environmental and sustainability playing field.

Second: Big boxes exist and will continue to exist for a while; but, let’s hope that the National Trust Main Street Center analysts are correct and main street businesses will find resurgence in the next 50 (or fewer!) years. Small business ownership, local economics and downtown shopping are gaining popularity in conversation and practice. Unfortunately, big boxes and sprawl continue to invade and threaten our towns, villages and cities across the country, whether you live in Vermont, Montana, California, Iowa — anywhere.

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl defines sprawl as, “Dispersed development outside of compact urban and village centers along highways and in rural countryside.” If you live in an area where village and town centers remain intact and distinguishable from sprawl and strip malls, then consider yourself lucky. Many people are not so lucky. Read more sprawl definitions on the Sprawl Guide from Planners Web.

Sprawl includes big box retailers such as the big four mentioned above who turn 50 this year; drugstores such as RiteAid, Kinney Drugs, Walgreens, CVS, Duane-Reade, etc.; other large retailers such as Best Buy, Toys R US, Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc. Currently, dollar stores are threatening Vermont left and right. Why are these stores contributing to sprawl? Simply put, most insist on constructing their own building and parking lot on undeveloped land, outside of village centers, targeting areas with weak zoning controls. Seldom will you see a box chain store nicely fitting into a historic downtown or village center.

The thing about sprawl is that anyone who has studied community development, land use planning, historic preservation, local economics or any related field, can automatically tell you that sprawl causes negative impacts to historic downtowns and local businesses. There is no question about it. And it is completely avoidable. So why are we still fighting the same issues? Do a quick web search; you will find countless studies, such as this one from the Sierra Club or this listing of reports from Planners Web.

Third: How can we prevent sprawl and big box development that destroys the vitality and vibrance of our historic downtowns, those same downtowns where Main Street is starting to find its resurgence? You and I can shop in local businesses religiously (as we should!), but there is absolutely no guarantee that development pressures do not exist or will not arise. Big box stores and outside-of-downtown development does not come because of a lack of downtown. It comes because a developer wants to, some people agree and local politicians agree.

Sprawl and poorly planned development near a historic district will negatively effect the downtown business district. In fact, a big box store/super center may eventually kill the local businesses and the local (as in locally owned, small business) economy. And then what? People are forced to shop at that store. Downtown is abandoned. The buildings are neglected. Quality of life and sense of place decrease. The historic business district is dead, and yet another, rare, formerly successful downtown is no more. Successful, sustainable downtowns are so critical to our economy and quality of life, and big box development can ruin everyone’s hard work in a matter of months or years.

How can you fix this? How can you preserve your town’s vitality?

The answer you will hear time and time again – because it’s true – is to insure that your town/city has proper zoning regulations. In brief, zoning classifies parcels into use categories (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.). Zoning can also dictate the size of a commercial establishment, which is often what precludes big box development out of a particular area. Unfortunately, many municipalities do not have updated zoning (out of date zoning can be just as bad as no zoning) because it has never been an issue or because people are misguided and are not in favor of zoning. How do you work around this? You have to start at the local level. Talk to your local officials. Use the Big Box Tool Kit website as a reference: it is one of the best of its kind.

The greatest changes happen at the local level.

Aside from local policies, our country is shaped by state and federal policies and laws, which include historic preservation regulations, particularly Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, both 1966 (see HP Basics No.2 for overview). The nuances of each vary, but it is important to know that state and federally funded projects must consider the project effects to historic resources and avoid, minimize or mitigate those effects. Both protect historic properties.

In addition to knowing the function of the laws, it is important to know that, as member of the public, you can be involved in the process of Section 106 and Section 4(f) through public and community meetings.  The Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation is incredibly helpful and is easy to understand if you are unfamiliar with such regulatory processes (see page 12 for public involvement).

Working with Federal Agencies – page 12 of the Citizen’s Guide to Section 106, produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. Click for original source.

Section 4(f) does not have quite the reader-friendly print edition as Section 106; however, the interactive Section 4(f) training website, produced by the Maryland Department of Transportation, is user and reader friendly (with only the necessary amount of regulatory speak). Enjoy both!

The federal regulations protect historic properties. In other words, proper building infill, appropriate building renovation, sensitive roadway improvements — all federally funded projects in, through or adjacent to a historic property are required to be reviewed by qualified professionals, in order to prevent adverse effects. These laws are effective.

Do you disagree with a project or an aspect of the project? How can Section 106 and Section 4(f) apply to you? Here are some important sections of the laws that relate to determining effects of a project:

As part of Section 106 regulations, step one is to identify the Area of Potential Effect, which is defined as: “The geographic area or areas within which an undertaking may directly or indirectly cause alterations in the character or use of historic properties, if any such properties exist. The area of potential effects is influenced by the scale and nature of an undertaking and may be different for different kinds of effects caused by the undertaking” (36 CFR 800.16(d)).  “Effect means alteration to the characteristics of a historic property qualifying it for inclusion in or eligibility for the National Register” (36 CFR 800.16i). An “adverse effect” has a longer definition, but “Adverse effects may include reasonably foreseeable effects caused by the undertaking that may occur later in time, be farther removed in distance or be cumulative” (36 CFR 800.5(1)).

Section 4(f) is more complicated, but essentially says that a transportation project cannot “use” a historic resource (or recreation resource, waterfowl or wildlife refuge) if there is a feasible and prudent alternative to doing so. An intriguing “use” under Section 4(f) is constructive use, meaning, “A constructive use occurs when the transportation project does not incorporate land from a Section 4(f) property, but the project’s proximity impacts are so severe that the protected activities, features, or attributes that qualify the property for protection under Section 4(f) are substantially impaired. Substantial impairment occurs only when the protected activities, features, or attributes of the property are substantially diminished” (23 CFR 774.15(a)).

When my UVM classmates and I first learned about 4(f), we thought it was the golden ticket. Proximity impacts?! That sounds like everything, we said. Only not. We learned that what we may consider an adverse effect in our academic bubble, was not necessarily articulated in the law. In other words, sprawl didn’t exactly apply for the application of this law. Every law has its place. Think of it as checks and balances; we need laws to work together, no matter what field or sector. Obviously, right? After all, no one resource is in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected. Are you with me?

So, for issues such as sprawl; let’s assume that it is clear that there are no historic properties in the project area. Therefore, no historic properties are affected, adverse or otherwise, under application of the laws. How will you protect your community from sprawl now? Where would protection against strip malls and poor development apply? In such a case where historic preservation laws do not reach, you need to employ other regulations. After all, one set of laws cannot solve everything, no matter how badly some of us might want them to.

The best protection of the economics of your community and the health of your community are local ordinances and local zoning (with concerned, dedicated citizens working in front of and behind these regulations). See how important this is?! Combined with historic preservation regulations, zoning and planning will preserve your historic properties and districts, which will preserve the economic sustainability and health of your community.

Can you make the argument that sprawl = negative impacts to your community? Of course. Learn how to prevent the negative impacts of sprawl. The answer: zoning, planning, community involvement, education! Our country, our states, our municipalities follow regulations and laws. It is important to understand the full strength and applicability of our laws to protect historic resources (and other resources). Where one set of laws does not meet your needs or does not apply to your concerns, you have to go other routes. Be an informed citizen and you will have a better quality of life and sense of place.

What do you think, about any or all of this?

The Difficult Part of Regulatory Review

As mentioned before, I love the regulatory world of historic preservation. I love working for the Agency of Transportation and having the opportunity to see historic preservation affect everyone and every place. It is exciting and practical and challenging.

Interpreting the legal language and implications of Section 106 and Section 4(f) can seem like a puzzle, but it gets easier and makes more sense with practice and experience. However, I have found that the most difficult part of interpreting and applying preservation law is realizing that the laws cannot help everything. What do I mean? Well, if a property is not historic or a Section 4(f) resource such as a park or a wildlife/waterfowl refuge, then the preservation laws have no control over the direction of the project. Other reviews, such as those pertaining to natural or biological resources or storm water control may still apply regulations, if the situation warrants it. Legally, that makes sense. And in terms of historic preservation, it makes sense.

But, every so often, I think about a project that doesn’t make sense, whether it’s in the media or something that I know of from experience, and I wish that there was a law to stop or fix the project. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that ineligible (for the National Register) houses and neighborhoods are not protected by preservation laws. After all, people live everywhere! Don’t all existing buildings deserve some sort of chance, under somebody’s law? Shouldn’t an existing, new building be exempt from demolition because of embodied energy? Where in the project review line will something like this be addressed?

This particular desire to protect everything, no matter what sort of resource, probably dates back to my Mary Washington days, when the flamingos and I first declared that we could save the world through our historic preservation efforts. It still keeps us going.

Well, everything cannot be and is not historic. Obviously, one law cannot control or have a say over every aspect of every project — that sounds a bit too power crazed; but when you spend your days looking at projects and determining what is eligible for protection and what is not, it’s hard to ignore everything else. When that happens, it is important to remember that historic preservation review is only a small part of the review process. My job is historic preservation compliance, and that is important to remember. The best way to solve this dilemma is to keep a good working relationship with colleagues in order to understand the entire scope of the project, as well as its purpose and need, and the project review process. Luckily, I’m learning this day by day: how review functions, when to question the process and when I need to better understand the process.

Readers, what do you find most difficult about your job?

Historic Preservation Basics No. 2

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation.

No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.

Every field has its jargon, historic preservation included. Some may be shared with architectural history or planning, for example, but most of the preservation vocabulary has unfamiliar connotations to those who are in other fields. So here is a list of words that will help you to understand and participate in conversations about preservation. Without a doubt, there are many more than I include here, but these represent my most commonly used technical words.

You’ll notice that many of these words tie into the definitions of each other, and many derive from federal regulations. The explanations are

Adverse Effect:

An alteration to the historic resource that will diminish the property’s integrity and its characteristics of integrity that qualify it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Usually referenced in discussion with Section 106 and regulatory review.

Context:

When discussing context, it often refers to understanding a resource within its historic context (e.g. an art-moderne gas station within its context of roadside architecture and the associated context of the growing United States and automobile industry, etc.). Resources out of context are at risk for losing their significance (e.g. a lone Queen Anne house that was once part of a neighborhood, but now sits lonely among a sea of strip malls). Concerning the National Register, “historic contexts are historical patterns that can be identified through consideration of the history of the property and the history of the surrounding area.” Read more about historic contexts and the NR here.

Historic:

Listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Typically, such properties are 50 years or older, though that is a guideline, not a rule.

Integrity:

When referencing historic integrity there are seven aspects to evaluate: location, design, setting, workmanship, feeling, association, and materials. Integrity will convey the significance of a property. When integrity is lost, the property is no longer significant, which is why alterations must be carefully reviewed. Read more about integrity from the National Register Bulletins.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:

Often abbreviated NHPA or NHPA 1966 (16 USC 470). As explained by the National Trust, this is the “primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States. The law establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections which encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources of national, state, tribal and local significance.”

National Register of Historic Places:

Called the National Register for short, or “NR,” it is the scale for significance — how we know what is important.  The National Park Service clearly explains it as, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”

National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Abbreviated NTHP or referred to as the National Trust. From the National Trust “about us” section: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. Staff at the Washington, DC, headquarters, six regional offices and 29 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states.”

Old:

Referring to a property that does not possess historic significance or historic integrity. Not eligible for listing in the National Register.

Preservation:

The maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. (Protection and Stabilization have now been consolidated under this treatment.)

Reconstruction:

Re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.

Rehabilitation:

Acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character as it has evolved over time.

Restoration:

Depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.

RITC:

Abbreviation for Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. Also called the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. From the National Trust, “The federal rehabilitation tax credit encourages the preservation and reuse of the nation’s built environment by offering federal tax credits to the owners of historic properties. Since it was enacted in 1976, the tax credit has generated over $50 billion in renovation and revitalization dollars. As a disincentive to demolition, it allows the owner of a historic building to receive an income tax credit of 20% of the amount spent to rehabilitate a certified historic structure. There is also a 10% credit for older, non-historic buildings…To qualify for the 20% rehabilitation credits, a building must be a “certified historic structure.” A certified historic structures is one that is listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a registered historic district and certified by the Secretary of the Interior as being of historical significance to the district. In addition, the rehabilitation work must qualify as “certified rehabilitation.” A certified rehabilitation is one that is approved by the Secretary of the Interior as consistent with the historic character of the building and, where applicable, with the district in which the building is located. All elements of the project must meet certain standards to ensure that the historic character of the building is preserved in the process of the rehabilitation.

Secretary of the Interior’s Standards:

Sometimes referred to as the Secretary’s Standards or Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties and sometimes Standards for Rehabilitation. The Standards for Rehabilitation are the most common, but there are four sets: preserving, restoring, rehabilitation, and reconstructing. Read all about the Standards for Rehabilitation from the National Park Service. From the National Park Service, “The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work.” These Standards are the benchmark for work on historic properties and for maintaining a property’s significance.

Section 106:

Federal regulations (36 CFR 800) implementing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This process determines the effect that a project has on a resource and then seeks ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the effects. Section 106 is applicable to all federally funded projects. Read more about Section 106 from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.

Section 4f:

Section 4(f) of the DOT Act stipulated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other DOT agencies cannot approve the use of land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site unless the following conditions apply: (1) There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land and (2) The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use. Read more from the Section 4f interactive training site.

Sense of Place:

Without finding a technical, regulatory related definition, sense of place refers to the feeling of a defined place, whether it be a town, village, landscape, park, etc. Sense of place means that people understand the built environment and how each element ties together. Sense of place gives people pride and connection to their environments, which is an important part of understanding historic preservation. To understand, consider sense of place in reference to a small town or a big city — both have a strong sense of place, usually. But then consider sense of place among highways of strip malls and run down neighborhoods. It’s not there, right?

SHPO:

Abbreviation for State Historic Preservation Office (or Officer, depending on your state). Pronounced S-H-P-O by some or ship-po by others. Established by the NHPA 1966, the SHPO has many roles including: surveying properties across the state in order to determine their significance, nominating properties to the National Register, administering grants, assisting local agencies, conducting and consulting on Section 106 review, reviewing applications for federal investment tax credit projects.

Significant:

In relation to the National Register, significant means historically significant. In order to be historically significant a property must have high levels of integrity and be significant under one of the criteria for evaluation of the National Register. Local, state, and national levels of significance may be different; i.e. a property may be significant locally (perhaps a barn where defining town events happened) but not nationally (as it would have to be important to the shaping of the nation). In short, when you read significance think historically significant and National Register.

Streetscape:

Streetscape refers to the massing of buildings, the street plantings, the physical environment and feel from the ground, from the human experience. It often goes hand-in-hand with view shed.

Viewshed:

This is a term often used in analyzing the effects of a projects. Essentially, will the view from or to a property be adversely affected by this change? Often the viewshed contributes greatly to the setting, feeling, and association (integrity!) of property or district. The Wilderness Battlefield case addressed viewshed.

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What vocabulary words would you like to add?

And, as a side note, thank you for the very positive response to the beginning of this series. Please let me know what you would like to read! I’m not sure on the length of this series, but for now, I’ll try for Wednesday and Friday posts for a few weeks.

I Wear a Hard Hat

I love the regulatory world. I love preservation law. If you’ve known me since college and even while I worked at Fort Bragg, you may have just fallen off your chair. I apologize (Michelle M, ahem). For years I thought Section 106 project review would be the most boring job in the world. I have asked people to to remind me that I would never want such a job. However, I made these bold statements before studying preservation law and before studying the case of the Lake Champlain Bridge. And of course, before my summer internship with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

My internship (and now job) includes two main parts: historic preservation monitor for the Lake Champlain Bridge project and project review for compliance with preservation laws. The preservation laws that I’m referring to are the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The brief reason for the existence of my historic preservation specialist and monitor job (with technical preservation law information thrown in there for fun and background knowledge) begins with this: the 1929 bridge that was demolished in December 2009 was historically significant.

Historic bridges are often part of our transportation systems, and thus serve two purposes: 1) sharing a part of our transportation history and 2) servicing our current transportation needs. But, often, historic bridges need to be widened or altered in order to keep pace with modern safety regulations. Unfortunately, some bridges will end up being demolished. However, Section 4(f) of the DOT Act of 1966 states that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) may not approve a project that involves the use of a 4(f) resource unless there is 1) no prudent and feasible alternative, 2) all measures have been taken to minimize harm, and 3) there is a de minimis impact on the resource. Section 4(f) resources can be defined as any significant historic or archaeological site, any publicly owned park or recreation area, or wildlife or waterfowl refuge. Thus, historic bridges fall under historic resources. Normally, historic bridges fall under the Section 4(f) Programmatic Agreement for historic bridges. In the case of the Lake Champlain Bridge, it did not apply because there was an adverse effect to the historic bridge (i.e. demolition). That meant that an agreement through Section 106 mitigation must be reached by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Office, FHWA, and the AOT/DOT.

To add more federal law into the mix, Section 106 also applied because the bridge traversed the Chimney Point State Historic Site. Any demolition or construction would involve the historic site in its area of potential effect. Section 106 applies to projects that constitute an undertaking, meaning a project, activity or program, funded in whole or in part under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of a federal agency, including those carried out by or on behalf of a federal agency; those carried out with federal financial assistance; and those requiring a federal; permit, license, or approval” [36 CFR 800.16].  If this project has the potential to affect historic resources, then the Section 106 process must be followed. Any adverse effects to the resource must be avoided, minimized, or mitigated.

So, to achieve mitigation of the loss of the historically significant Lake Champlain Bridge, a lengthy Programmatic Agreement (PA) was developed between the Federal and State agencies, both New York and Vermont. The mitigation involves protection of the historic sites with stipulations such as site delineation (via fencing), vibration monitoring, dust suppression, archaeological monitoring, and most importantly: communication. My job involves insuring compliance with the PA. If you’re really interested, you can read my weekly reports. (Click there and scroll all the way to the bottom of the “Construction” page.) The most interesting portion of each report is the photo section, fyi. Check out the construction webcams, too, if you want to see the live action. Working on a construction site is an interesting, exciting challenge, and while new construction and historic preservation rarely speak in the same vocabulary, I’ve learned that better communication and a willingness to understand the other side can make a huge difference. And yes, I do walk around in a hard hat and a reflective safety vest. And I wear many, many layers to combat the frigid winter air that blows from Lake Champlain.

Working on site at Chimney Point, January 2011. It’s alright; I know I look ridiculous. But, everyone else on a construction site looks the same.

I do not always wear a hard hat; some days I am in the office. But, I will say that a few times I’ve been walking down the hall and reached up to see if I was wearing my hard hat. I think I’m getting to accustomed to wearing it! Aside from the Lake Champlain Bridge, my job involves project review: all transportation funded projects must be reviewed for compliance with provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106) as well as the DOT Act of 1966 (Section 4f). Unlike other states, Vermont has a Programmatic Agreement between the Agency of Transportation and the Division for Historic Preservation that allows the Agency of Transportation to conduct in house Section 106 reviews on standard projects. (The Lake Champlain Bridge is not an ordinary project, mostly because it was jointly owned by New York and Vermont.) Project can range from paving project to sidewalk improvements to road realignment to sign replacements and much more. It is absolutely amazing just how often preservation and transportation interact and just how frequently other fields intersect, such as wildlife, hydraulics, engineering, and construction. Every project requires careful review by all of the disciplines and when there is a problem with one, all must work together to find a solution and still meet the purpose and need of the project.

So that’s my job – without getting into too much detail. I love it. Each law has way more to it than I’ve outlined here, but clicks the links throughout the post for more information or ask me what I meant. I love talking through the laws!  And while the laws aren’t perfect and we will not agree with them all of the time, they make the preservation world go round, so to speak.

Care to share stories about your job?