3 Questions to Ask about Needing a Cultural Resources Survey

(by Andy Sewell, originally posted March 29, 2012)

One of the most common questions clients ask us is whether their project really needs a cultural resources survey. Determining if a cultural resources survey is necessary depends largely on whether a relevant federal, state, or local law applies to the project. That is to say, is the project under the purview of a federal or state authority or funding source that requires the project to consider the effect on cultural resources? Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help clarify the matter:

1) What is my funding source? If any of the funds that will be used for the project come from the federal government, even if they are administered by a state or local agency, it is highly likely that a review of known cultural resources or a complete cultural resources survey will be necessary. Common examples of government funding sources include:

  • Federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which provide aid for a variety of local development concerns
  • The U.S. EPA’s State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG), which helps states and tribes pay for water supply and wastewater projects
  • Funds from the Federal Highway Administration, which are used by state and local governments for transportation projects

2) Will I need a government permit, certification, licensure, or other form of approval to complete any part of my project? If the project requires federal approval before it can proceed, then it is highly likely that some form of cultural resources review or survey will be necessary. Common examples of government permits or certifications encountered by municipalities and private industry include:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit for projects that lead to the introduction of material from excavation, dredging and other similar activities into waters of the United States, such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands
  • ┬áThe Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) approval for constructing new wireless communications towers (FCC Form 620)
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval for constructing interstate natural gas pipelines.

3) If federal or state funding or permitting is not involved in your project, is there a local ordinance that protects cultural resources or requires that cultural resources be identified before the project can proceed? For example, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, requires many developers to identify cultural resources as part of the proposed project’s planning and zoning review process.

Federal and state regulations can have confusing jargon and result in miscommunication. Take control of this situation with our series of guides about cultural resources regulations and compliance! The second guide in our series reviews federal and Ohio regulations that require certain types of projects to take into account their effects on cultural resources, like archaeological sites or historic districts.

If you still need guidance on whether your project must comply with cultural resources laws and regulations, contact your funding or permitting source. Another great resource for information is your state historic preservation office. Be aware that if you disregard or are simply ignorant of federal and state laws, you can significantly delay government funding and permits as well as exponentially increase the cost of your project! And in some cases, you may face legal ramifications. When it comes to cultural resources, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.