July 8, 2014

Section 106, Part Two: How You Can Get Involved

[Preservation Tips & Tools] Section 106, Part Two: How You Can Get Involved from PreservationNation

In last week’s toolkit, we covered the who and what of Section 106 review, a preservation tool that can help you save a place that matters to you. Now we’re going to cover the how, which involves one of the most important parts of the process: you!

We’ve mentioned a few times just how essential public involvement is in the Section 106 review process, and we have a few pointers on how you can influence the outcome of a federal project proposal.

The review process can sometimes be a lengthy ordeal, but there are ways that you can get involved both before and after the review is completed.

Before the review is completed:

Write to federal agencies and ask for a description of the project.

Ask what the current status is and how they plan to comply with Section 106. This is a good initial step to take to make federal agencies aware of your interest in the matter; the sooner they’re aware of your interest, the better chance you have of influencing the outcome.

Voice your specific concerns (in writing).

This crucial step lets the agency know what you’re worried about and why this place means so much to you. When letting the agency know your concerns, it’s best to be as specific as possible, particularly if you can address these three areas:

  • Direct harm: Describe how the project will physically damage or alter the historic property’s integrity or character.
  • Indirect harm: Discuss the indirect effects that will harm the area as a result of the project -- for example, visual, noise, or traffic impacts that disturb the community.
  • Cumulative effects: Outline the effects that are reasonably foreseeable and look at long-term consequences. (Usually, such effects are gradual and subtle.)
    • Example: If a federal agency wants to build a road, it is likely that the road will be widened in the future, which could eventually lead to sprawl development.

The Houston Light Guard Armory, Texas
The Houston Light Guard Armory in Texas

Directly addressing these specific concerns will promote a well-thought-out, interconnected argument for consulting parties to consider.

Now, you might be wondering why we’re stressing to put this all in writing. It’s essential to voice your concerns to federal agencies this way because it keeps a record of your involvement, but because it also allows you to clearly state your interests and gives you a chance to suggest constructive alternatives to the project.

Become a consulting party.

Consultation is the heart of Section 106 review. It’s during this process that alternative options are sought out and discussed in an effort to avoid or minimize harm to historic properties. If you have a legal or economic interest in the project or properties being affected, you can write to the federal agency and ask to become a consulting party.

When composing the request, explain why your expertise and involvement is beneficial. (Be sure to provide a copy of your letter to your State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and/or Native Hawaiian Organizations (SHPO, THPO, NHO) as well.)

If the federal agency denies your status, you may ask the ACHP to review your request, but ultimately, the federal agency must be the party to approve your status. Check out a model form letter requesting consulting party status here.

Inform your SHPO/THPO/NHO of your interest.

By making the consulting parties aware of your interest in the matter, you’ll have a greater chance of having your concerns and ideas heard. It’s important to be engaged from the beginning, so contact them as soon as you’re aware of the Section 106 review occurring in your area.

Look out for projects being reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Projects reviewed under NEPA usually undergo Section 106 review as well. (NEPA defines the “environment” to include historic resources.) Federal agencies often use this tactic as a way to reach out to the public.

  • Tip: The Federal Register, a daily government publication, has notices of projects under review. (You can access it through your public library or online.)

Join a historical, preservation, or archaeological organization.

These types of organizations are often the first to hear about Section 106 reviews. You can look for these types of organizations on a local, state, or national level.

The Lexington Historical Society in Massachusetts

After the review is completed:

Keep a watch on the project as it is being implemented.

Make sure the agency is carrying out the agreements that were signed upon the completion of the review, and make sure they’re carrying them out properly. You can ask if they have a plan for post-review historic discoveries during implementation and how that plan complies with Section 106 regulations.

Request status reports from the agency.

Staying informed is important. Write to the agency and ask for status updates throughout the process of the project implementation.

Prepare for the next time you encounter a Section 106 review.

Educate yourself on the many details involved with Section 106 and make use of the resources available to you. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation offers Section 106 training to those who wish to be involved with the process (learn more).

Though it can seem complicated, the Section 106 process ultimately intends to create a balance between federal agencies and the public that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates harmful impacts to our shared national heritage.

Cassie Keener is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. She enjoys writing, spending time outdoors, and enthusing about movies and music.

Related Stories

This Preservation Month, let's celebrate and explore historic places, starting with one action a day through the month of May. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

Get Started