The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

The following may be a bit dry, but I love this stuff (i.e. I’m a huge CRM legislation nerd) . . .

What is the NHPA?

A major piece of cultural resource management legislation that provided laws for the protection of cultural resources and identified the need for increased public knowledge of cultural resources was the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Urban Renewal Program launched by the Kennedy administration increased the destruction of natural and cultural resources (King 1998:15). City slums, which were once historic centers, were destroyed in the name of progress. As King (2000:16) notes, federal agencies “damaged or destroyed stuff that people valued because it embodied their history. . .This was sometimes necessary; the old often, maybe usually, had to make way for the new.” First lady Johnson coordinated a program during the Johnson administration to create a comprehensive report on historic preservation needs. The report recommended that Congress should create a national historic preservation program, outlining the legislative provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act (King 1998:15).

Signed into law by President Johnson on October 15, 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act established a process for preserving United States historic heritage, including historic properties. Congress declared in Section 1(b)(1)(3) that “ the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in historic heritage. . . historic properties significant to the Nation’s heritage are being lost or substantially altered, often inadvertently, with increasing frequency” (United States Congress 1966:1). Government agencies would now have a compliance process that forced them to think and plan before inadvertently or purposefully destroy a property of significance on public lands. Such properties include both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and historic buildings. Section 106 of the Act provides the specific compliance process for any Federal undertaking. As for public education, the Act sets provisions to not only protect and preserve significant properties for the benefit of the public, but also endeavors to involve the public.

NHPA and Public Outreach

Did you know that there is language in the law to provide education and outreach to the public? The language of the National Historic Preservation Act is explicit in stating the importance of preserving historic heritage for the public before it is lost through “progress.” The Act also states in Section 1(b)(2), “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people” (United States Congress 1966:1). Therefore, “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational . . .will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans” (United States Congress 1966:1). In order to pique public interest in historic heritage, Section 101(3)(G) states that designated State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) have the responsibility to provide the public information, education, training, and any technical assisted needed in historic preservation (United States Congress 1966:7). Section 401 describes the necessity of a coordinated National initiative to promote research, provide training, and distribute information on preservation (United States Congress 1966:43). Consequently, education is crucial for the public to understand the preservation process.

The Act does make provisions for public involvement during the Section 106 process to voice concern of the potentially negative effects of an undertaking on a significant property. Section 110(2)(E)(ii) of the Act notes that consultation with the interested public, including Indian tribes, is necessary in the identification and evaluation of historic properties (United States Congress 1966:21). SHPO developed education programs on historic preservation, as well as the National initiative to promote training in historic preservation, have the potential to provide the public with the necessary information to become a major voice during the Section 106 consultation process.  The public has every right to demand a role in the compliance process and expect the government to hear their voice, due to the process outlined by Section 106.

King, Thomas F.

2000 Federal Planning and Historic Places: The Section 106 Process. Altamira Press, New York.

United States Congress

1966 National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:16 USC 470, October 15, 1966. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/nhpa1966.htm

 

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