Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The New East Utalina State Historic Preservation Officer

Memo to the Staff, East Utalina SHPO

As you know, yesterday I accepted Governor Christineger’s appointment as East Utalina’s State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO).  I am honored and humbled by this appointment, and look forward to working with all of you.
In accepting the Governor’s appointment, I also accepted – and strongly support – his direction to make a 25% cut in the cost of SHPO operations and to simplify administrative processes.  The major purpose of this memorandum is to explain how I intend to implement this direction.

By way of background, I believe strongly that the central purpose of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the East Utalina Historic Resources Act (EUHRA) is to protect and advance the public interest with respect to historic preservation.   NHPA and EUHRA were not intended to place the interests of historic preservation above all other interests, and the office of SHPO, created and described in the statutes, is not intended to be an unfailing advocate for historic preservation regardless of other interests.  Nor, I believe, is it the purpose of the SHPO to serve largely as an information repository, a collector of information, or a bookkeeper.
The core responsibility of the SHPO, I believe, is to do whatever is feasible to ensure that the public has every opportunity to influence decision-making relating to the management of historic properties, including the management of impacts on such properties.  This is implicit in the language of the regulations implementing Section 106 of NHPA, wherein the SHPO is said to “reflect the interests of the State and its citizens in the preservation of their cultural heritage” (36 CFR § 800.2(c)(1)(i)).  No individual or office can in fact reflect such a range of interests as those represented by the State and all its citizens, so what we must do is to ensure that citizens can readily participate in what we do, and to influence our decisions and those of others.  In many ways, NHPA and EUHRA are intended to protect the interests of the public from the plans and projects of government and those it assists or licenses.  This is the function I intend to emphasize.

Much of our staff time – and hence our budget – is given over to (a) encouraging, receiving, reviewing and processing nominations to the National and State Registers of Historic Places (carried out by the Office of Registration) and (b) participation in federal project review under Section 106 of NHPA  and Section 601 of EUHRA (carried out by the Office of Consultation).  The following measures are designed to simplify these functions, substantially achieving the 25% cost reduction ordered by the Governor while improving our responsiveness to the public interest.
1.       Effective immediately, the Office of Registration is abolished.  Registration, including listing properties on the State and National Registers, is a recordkeeping function that we must downgrade.

a.       To the extent registration continues, it will be carried out by the Office Librarian.

b.      SHPO sponsorship of surveys and nominations to the State and National Registers will be wound down in an orderly manner; by the end of this fiscal year, investment in such operations should approximate zero.

c.       Nominations prepared by others will be received and reviewed as time permits, with priority given to properties whose registration relates in some demonstrable way to land-use planning, development project review, and/or the receipt of grants to support preservation, with the explicit recognition that neither NHPA nor EUHRA require placement on the National or State Register to trigger the review of impacts on properties; eligibility for either register is sufficient.

d.      Employees whose positions are terminated by this action will receive priority consideration for jobs that become available elsewhere in the office, and will be counseled regarding employment options in other state agencies, local governments, with Indian tribes, and in the private sector.

2.       The Chief, Office of Consultation will within thirty (30) days deliver to me a plan of action to achieve the following objectives:

a.       Finalize guidelines for all federal and state agencies regarding initiation of NHPA Section 106 review in accordance with 36 CFR § 800.3, and for the conduct of review under 36 CFR §§ 800.4 and 800.5.  These guidelines are to emphasize agency outreach to the interested public, and ongoing consultation with interested parties, so as to ensure that such parties are given every opportunity to participate in and influence the project review process.   The guidelines should provide for monitoring by this office to promote agency compliance, and for intervention by this office in response to public concerns.

b.      Simplify or eliminate routine review by this office of agency determinations under  36 CFR §§ 800.4 and 800.5 and the equivalent sections of the EUHRA Section 601 procedures, provided the agency whose project is subject to review conducts itself in accordance with our guidelines and there are no objections from the public, local governments, or Indian tribes.  This office should concur in determinations that no historic properties are affected by a project, or that there will be no adverse effect, provided the responsible agency demonstrates that it has followed our guidelines and has the substantial agreement of Indian tribes, local governments, property owners, historic preservation interests, and other consulting parties.

c.       Establish that it is the role of this office to (1) promote responsible, thoughtful attention by federal and state agencies to the effects of their actions on the cultural environment, including but not limited to historic properties, and to (2) mediate and facilitate negotiation among such agencies and other interested parties to resolve the adverse effects of such actions under 36 CFR §§ 800.6, the equivalent provisions of the EUHRA Section 601 procedures, and other pertinent laws, regulations, and executive orders.

d.      Establish that this office will not invest substantial staff time or budget in promoting review processes for their own sake, or in promoting the preservation of properties in which Indian tribes, local governments, historical, architectural, or archaeological interests, and the public, having had a full opportunity to express interest, have not done so. 
I realize that some of these directions fly in the face of long-standing policies and procedures articulated by the National Park Service (NPS), an important source of funding for our operations.  NPS policies and procedures are not engraved in stone, however, and I am hopeful that NPS will recognize that the time has come to explore alternatives that may be more responsive both to the public interest and to fiscal reality.  I look forward to vigorous discussion of this matter with NPS and my colleagues in the National Conference of SHPOs.
Fred Noonan
State Historic Preservation Officer


David Rotenstein said...

Great take on SHPO standard operating procedures. One question, though: How did Fred Noonan land in his new gig?

Thomas F King said...

He navigated to it, of course, with unerring accuracy.