Fate of historic preservation program up for talks Thursday at House panel

By David Pendered

A House Transportation subcommittee on Thursday is slated to reconsider a proposal that archaeologists say would cripple historic research and preservation on roadway projects.

At issue is the set of requirements for site research before a road is built. Senate Bill 346 eliminates the requirements on road projects valued at less than $100 million.

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The bodies of three Union soldiers were found, but no greater excavation occurred in Gordon County in 1962.

The issue stems from the state transportation funding bill the Legislature approved in 2015. Georgia is using its new revenues to pay for some road projects without federal funding.

This means the state doesn’t have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act as it builds roads. Site research goes out the window under the provisions of SB 346 for projects less than $100 million – which is a lot of projects.

The House Highway Regulations Subcommittee on Transportation is slated to consider SB 346 at its meeting at 2 p.m. in room No. 506 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

Sara Gale, a program manager at New South Associates, Inc. intends to present an array of historic sites that would have been obliterated without the requirements for historic preservation. Here are a few highlights of Gale’s potential presentation:

  • In Middle Georgia: The mound was mostly leveled, with approximately 4 feet still present under the road. Mound A was leveled and used for road fill for the road embankment;
  • In north Georgia: a ”Cut through the middle of the Resaca Battlefield and only allowed 48 hours for archaeology by Dr. Dan Morse and one DOT employee with his own metal detector. The bodies of 3 Union soldiers were found and recovered, but no maps or reports were created. “
  • “Camp Lawton, a Civil War internment camp larger than Andersonville, was partially destroyed during the construction of SR 121 in Jenkins County. GDOT has since worked in partnership with DNR to protect the site during later maintenance and widening projects.

The subcommittee considered the proposal at its meeting Monday and took no action.

Opposition to the bill was led that day by Jim Langford. Langford may be best known in Atlanta for his work to preserve land for the Atlanta BeltLine in his role as state director of The Trust for Public Land.

Less known than his TPL work is that five governors appointed Langford to serve on an array of state commissions and boards over a 35-year period, including the Georgia Board of Natural Resources, the Governor’s Environmental Advisory Council and the Georgia Humanities Council.

Following Langford’s presentation, the subcommittee opted to postpone a decision to recommend that the House Transportation Committee approve or reject SB 346.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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