Resource Development Council

RDC Comment Letter:
DNR Proposed Regulations for the Alaska Historic Preservation Act

March 30, 2010

Office of History and Archaeology
Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
550 W 7th Ave Suite 1310
Anchorage, AK 99501-3561

Dear Sir or Madam:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Office of History and Archaeology’s proposed new regulations for the Alaska Historic Preservation Act.

RDC is a statewide business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native Corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC is concerned that the requirement in the proposed regulations for a new permit, outlined in 11 AAC 16.500, may have negative impacts on our members. RDC recommends eliminating this requirement completely. The Office of History and Archaeology (OHA) has for many years worked through multiple permitting agencies to uphold its historic preservation practices, and should continue to operate in the same manner. Adding an additional permit to the dozens already required by these agencies is unnecessary, as the current process is highly effective, efficient, and poses no major problems that the proposed new regulations would address. Additionally, the new OHA permit, which would accompany every state permit, stands to jeopardize our currently streamlined processes such as field permits, general permits, and quick-turnaround permits. These processes, for situations like burn permits, temporary water-use permits and even food service permits are designed to quickly award a permit for a minor disturbance activity. Requiring an OHA permit and its 90-day process to accompany these is simply unworkable.

Aside from Section 500 of the proposed new regulations, RDC believes the proposed changes mostly improve the State’s ability to manage historic resources. However, we have several comments and recommendations we respectfully ask that you consider before adopting final regulations.

  1. Private Land: The new OHA regulations should honor privately owned lands that the State does not have the authority to manage. State law mandates that OHA can manage historic resources on private land ONLY if public funds are being used for the project or with the landowner’s consent. The proposed regulations give OHA authority beyond what is authorized by statute, and this should be recognized in revisions to the regulations.
  2. Appeals of OHA Decisions: After adopting the new regulations, decisions made by OHA enforcing them should be appealable to the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to consult with OHA to determine if a property has historic value. How OHA responds to this federal request is a significant decision made by the state, and one that should be eligible for appeal to the DNR Commissioner. The regulations specify that appeals can be made only to a federal official based in Washington, D.C.; the Keeper of the Natural Register of Historic Places. The Commissioner of DNR and at very least the Governor should be able to review any OHA decision, like all other divisions within DNR. This is an important omission that should be corrected in any revisions of the proposed regulations.
  3. Educational and personal-use fossil collecting: The Alaska Historic Preservation Act applies to fossils commonly found around Alaska. Teachers collecting everyday fossils for their class or kids discovering simple fossils in a park stand to violate the law if the proposed regulations are adopted. Similarly, the proposed regulations require construction to halt if a common fossil is encountered. A revision must be made to allow for low-level use of state historic resources such as these.
  4. Frequently encountered scenarios: a standard, streamlined tool within OHA should be used to address discoveries of old garbage, a rotting building, etc. These frequently encountered situations should have conventional solutions like avoidance and documentation and should not delay projects. The proposed regulations should address this issue in its revisions.
  5. Alaska Historic Landmark Register: The proposed regulations allow the Alaska Historical Commission to authorize OHA to establish a Historical Landmark without the approval of the agency that manages the land. Potentially, OHA could use the Historical Landmark status to enforce standards for an area managed by another agency, without first consulting with that agency. This process should remain internal and not become a conflict between the agencies involved and OHA.

Along with the above recommendations, RDC requests that further regulations be adopted with input from those who are regulated in Alaska. Discussion with affected groups will result in clear, effective regulations that allow for productive project development in the State while enhancing the State’s management of historic resources.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.