By David Pendered
Georgia’s sometimes competing interests in balancing road construction with historic preservation are unfolding as a deadline looms for public comment on part of the state’s five-year historic preservation plan. Meanwhile, no members have been appointed to the Georgia House Study Committee on Historic Preservation.
July 6 is the deadline for pubic comment on draft goals that are to be included in the pending update of the five-year State Historic Preservation Plan. These goals are a critical component of how and where the state spends its resources on historic preservation.
As these goals and the plan are finalized, professional archaeologists are watching over state highway officials as a new law takes effect July 1. The concern is that the state Transportation Department’s implementation of Senate Bill 346 will threaten historically significant sites.
One thing no one seems to be talking about is the limbo of the Georgia House Committee on History Site Preservation.
The House voted unanimously on March 2 to create the study committee. No members have been appointed and no staff assigned, according to the House website. The House speaker is to appoint five representatives to the committee and it is to stand abolished Dec. 1, according to House Resolution 978.
All three of these situations are developing as the state’s Department of Natural Resources is looking outside state coffers to help pay for preservation efforts.
DNR’s Historic Preservation Division is to receive $2.7 million this year, according to the state’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1. Federal funds and grants account for $1 million of the total, according to the budget. The FY 2017 budget includes $58,000 for one new position of architectural reviewer.
By comparison, in FY 2007, the division received $2.5 million, according to line item of actual expenses as noted in the 2008 budget. The $200,000 increase since 2007 represents a hike of 8 percent.
Statewide spending has increased by 42 percent during the same period. The state budget has grown from $16.8 million in FY 2007 to $23.8 million in FY 2017, according to the budgets.
DNR’s proposed goals for the five-year plan clearly address this funding scenario. They include:
- “Leverage private and federal grants as sources of additional funding;
- “Develop alternate funding streams to support preservation activities;
- “Strengthen current and develop new partnerships to collaborate on funding for common interest preservation projects.
DNR’s existing preservation plan specifically comments on funding shortages for the 2007-2011 period.
In a section that cites a number of accomplishments, the plan notes:
- “These accomplishments were made while facing increasing economic challenges. Among these challenges were the reduction in state funds for preservation, including the elimination of seven staff positions at HPD, state funding for the Georgia Heritage grants program and significant decreases for the state’s regional preservation planning program, as well as reduced revenues for historic preservation organizations throughout Georgia. These challenges required a re-focusing of efforts and an even greater reliance on preservation partners throughout the state.”
The concern over SB 346 that some professional archaeologists have identified is that it will reduce the level of environmental oversight review that must be completed before a road is built or expanded.
The concern arises from the state’s new transportation funding programs. GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry told lawmakers that GDOT is shifting funding for new roads from federal to state sources.
As a result, federal requirements on environmental oversight won’t apply to most of the new road projects. Archaeologists fear the state requirements are not sufficient to ensure that unknown historic sites, such as burial grounds, may not be identified before construction begins.