Government Affairs Committee Report to Members, October 23, 2020

Al Tonetti, Chair

Andy Sewell, Lauren Sieg, and Mike Striker, Committee Members


The mission of the Government Affairs Committee is to develop and advance legislative priorities, consult with government agencies, interested parties, and the public regarding the effects of government policies, regulations, actions, and projects on Ohio archaeology and archaeological resources, and provide leadership regarding the role of archaeology and archaeologists in civic affairs. If you want to participate in the Committee’s work, please contact Al Tonetti.

State Issues

Human Burial Places Protection Bill.  We continue to work with the Ohio History Connection (OHC), especially its State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), State Representative Scherer, and federally recognized tribes on this matter. Because Rep. Scherer is retiring at the end of this year, we need to find one or more bill sponsors in 2021. Earlier this year, the outgoing President of the Archaeological Society of Ohio (ASO) wrote in Ohio Archaeologist that we were asked to “start over and engage the ASO, Farm Bureau, Home Builders Assn., and other interested parties to create a draft that would be acceptable to everyone.” This is mostly untrue. We were not asked by Rep. Scherer to start over or revise the draft to make it acceptable to everyone. We met with the ASO, the Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Realtors Association, and other interested parties in June 2019, listened to their concerns, and revised the draft bill to try and accommodate some of their concerns. We presented the revised bill to Rep. Scherer, who was to then meet individually with interested parties. Impacts from the coronavirus, the shutdown, and Rep. Scherer’s impending retirement delayed progress on this work.   

Ohio Underground Damage Prevention Coalition.  Subcommittees of the Coalition continued to meet remotely discussing revising Ohio’s “call before you dig”/underground utilities protection law. Subcommittees may make recommendations on revising the law to the Coalition next year. Changes to training requirements are likely. OHIO811’s website https://www.oups.org contains updates.

Archaeology Guidelines Update.  SHPO is finishing work on the revisions. SHPO wants to make the revised guidelines more user-friendly and easily updated on their website with links to best practices and other useful documents. New guidelines on geophysical survey, photogrammetry, tribal consultation and NAGPRA compliance, human remains, submerged resources, and integration with the history/architecture guidelines are anticipated. Contact John Schweikart at SHPO for further information.

History Fund Grants.  At the end of July, OHC announced the recipients of their Ohio History Fund COVID-19 Emergency Grants program for 501(c)(3) history organizations. They received 127 applications totaling $259,500 but had only $58,000 to grant. Administration of the History Fund has been transferred to the SHPO. The deadline for 2020-2021 grant application cycle was October 1.

Ohio Humanities Grants.  In July, Ohio Humanities announced 91 grant awards for the first round of OH CARES funding to help cultural nonprofit organizations affected by COVID-19 health crisis http://www.ohiohumanities.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/OH-CARES-Grant-Awards.pdf. The amount awarded totaled $690,000. Recipients included art museums, local historical societies, preservation societies, and other organizations that preserve and promote Ohio history, heritage, and culture. Another round totaling $60,000 was made available in August. Organizations that received OH CARES grants in the first round of funding were ineligible for round two.

Funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the grants help maintain staffing and provide programming for audiences affected by continuing pandemic restrictions. OH CARES grants can be used for digital programming, humanities education staff, and supplies to maintain the safety of employees and patrons. 

Newark Earthworks Litigation.  On July 7, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that it would hear Moundbuilders Country Club appeal that OHC can terminate their lease using Ohio’s eminent domain statute https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Clerk/ecms/#/caseinfo/2020/0191. The schedule for filings and oral arguments is unknown, but it will not be until 2021 that the Court rules on the matter. 

Statehood Day.  Planning is underway for Statehood Day 2021, OHC’s annual legislative priorities and awareness event. It is likely to be a virtual event on Monday, March 1, free of charge, and two hours in length. Legislative priorities have not yet been set.

Federal Issues

Modernization of NEPA Regulations.  On January 10, 2020, the Trump administration’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to “modernize” its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. According to the CEQ, “the outdated regulations have slowed and impeded the development of needed infrastructure in communities across the nation.  Environmental impact statements (EISs) for Federal highway projects have averaged over 7 years to complete and many reviews have taken a decade or more.” In examining the proposed changes, the OAC reviewed comments from organizations we are allied with such as the Coalition for American Heritage and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). Both indicated that they are concerned that if these changes are made, they would dramatically reduce consideration of archaeological resources on federal infrastructure projects including those reviewed under Sections 106 and 110 of the NHPA. The Coalition’s initial review found the following concerns:

“Introducing a new concept – ‘a threshold analysis’ – to see if NEPA should apply at all, particularly for privately financed projects with ‘minimal government funding or involvement’ (terms that have yet to be defined). This has the potential of reducing the number of projects requiring cultural resources review. Limiting the consideration of indirect effects on the environment, effects that are often greater than direct effects. This has the potential of limiting the assessment of project effects on cultural resources. Banning groups that don’t weigh in during the public comment period from raising objections in litigation later in the process. This change runs counter to the fundamental NEPA goal of giving the public a voice in federal decision making and would curtail our ability to challenge potentially harmful projects.”

The SAA (a Coalition partner, as is the Ohio Archaeological Council) also requested members submit comments and prepared a template for their use. The OAC’s comments were submitted March 10.

Budget/Appropriations.  Recently, the House passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 (October 2020 – September 2021) Department of Interior Appropriations bill. The Senate has yet to take up any of their appropriations bills. The bill includes significant increases for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The bill funds the HPF at a record $136 million, a nearly $18 million increase over FY 2020. The bill includes $55.675 million for State Historic Preservation Offices, $15 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, $25 million for Save America's Treasures, and $1.9 million for NAGPRA Grants. It also includes $24 million for the Heritage Partnership Program, which supports National Heritage Areas. The Federal Government is currently operating under a continuing resolution through December 11.

President Signs Great American Outdoors Act.  On August 4, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoor Act (H.R 7092, S.3422), which passed the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. The bill fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and provides dedicated funding to address deferred maintenance at the National Park Service and other public lands. The LWCF has been used to preserve battlefields and other nationally important historic places.

Bills in Congress (information on all bills available at https://congress.gov/): 

S. 2430, Paving the Way for Rural Communities of 2019 Act.  On August 1, 2019, Senators Blackburn (R-TN), Perdue (R-GA), and Hyde-Smith (R-MS) introduced S. 2430. This partisan bill would remove compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act for federally funded projects or activities in any area of the country that is not part of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). In Ohio, this would remove compliance in 50 of Ohio’s 88 counties, all of them rural. S. 2430 was referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. No hearings on the bill have occurred. We will work with our partners at the federal level, particularly the Coalition for American Heritage and the Society for American Archaeology, in opposing this bill.

H.R. 1179/S. 2827, African American Burial Grounds Network Act.  In June, the OAC joined 72 other local, state, and national organizations, including six from Ohio, in a letter of support for the bill to the Subcommittee and the House Committee on Natural Resources. Introduced on February 13, 2019, H.R. 1179 has 49 bipartisan cosponsors including Ohio Reps. Balderson (R-Troy), Beatty (D-Columbus), Fudge (D-Cuyahoga and Summit counties), and Turner (R-Dayton). On May 22, 2019, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a hearing on the bill. It would create within the National Park Service the African American Burial Grounds Network that would:

Create a voluntary, nationwide database of historic African American burial grounds, with the consent of the property owner;

Provide technical assistance to local public, private, state, and local partners to research, survey, identify, record, preserve, evaluate, and interpret these burial grounds;

Make available grants for local groups to research, survey, identify, record, and aid in the preservation of sites within the Network; and

Establish educational materials for community members, local groups, and schools about African American burial grounds.On November 11, 2019, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown introduced companion bill S. 2827 in the U.S. Senate. It was assigned to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It has six bipartisan cosponsors. It had one hearing in the Committee.


H.R. 3846/S. 2165, Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act.  Bipartisan bills to explicitly bar and establish penalties for knowingly exporting Native American cultural items that were obtained in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or both. The bills have been referred to the House Natural Resources, Judiciary, and Foreign Affairs committees, and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, respectively. The House bill has 25 cosponsors, including Rep. Beatty from Ohio.  On September 19, 2019, a hearing on the bill was held by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. The Senate bill has 12 cosponsors, none from Ohio. This summer the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on it and recommended it for passage.

H.R. 8298, To Amend the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act for Several Purposes.  Introduced on September 17, 2020, by Rep. Haaland (D-NM), it has four cosponsors, none from Ohio. The bill proposes to amend NAGPRA by moving the enforcement office to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, increase the civil monetary penalties for failure to follow the processes established by that Act (5% of a museum’s annual budget or $25,000, whichever is less, per substantiated failure to comply, plus additional sums as determined by the Sec. of the Interior), and to protect confidential information. It is pending before the House Natural Resources Committee.   

Section 106 Consultations: 

Buckeye Lake East End Dredge Material Relocation Area.  USACE/ODNR project, Perry County. OAC is a consulting party on this project that affects 33PE1221, an open-air Late Archaic habitation site determined NRHP eligible. Avoidance of project impacts was recommended by USACE/ODNR and SHPO. The OAC requested further clarification on the site’s NRHP eligibility and why avoidance was recommended over data recovery.

Cuyahoga River Restoration, Boston Mills.  USEPA/NPS/USACE project, Cuyahoga and Summit counties. The OAC is a consulting party of this project, which has the potential to affect known archaeological sites and areas where there is a high potential for sites to occur. We participate in monthly consulting party meetings and submitted comments on the project’s scope of work to identify cultural resources and other matters. 

Judge Barker House.  USACE project, Washington County.  Archaeology at the NRHP-listed building has been completed without finding anything of significance. Continued consultation occurs between the USACE, SHPO, local, state, and national preservation organizations, state and federal legislators, and others. Relocation of the property is no longer being considered. Transfer of ownership of the building to a local nonprofit organization is likely.

 Maumee River Bridge.  USACE/ODOT project, Henry County. The MOA has been executed and data recovery completed at site 33HY167. The Miami Tribe is an invited signatory on the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA); the OAC and Eastern Shawnee Tribe are concurring parties. The MOA included a stipulation to prepare an article about the archaeological investigations for an unspecified peer-reviewed journal.

Thornwood Crossing Bridge.  ODOT project, Licking County (Newark). The OAC accepted ODOT’s invitation to be a consulting party to address impacts on 33LI1740, a Middle Woodland period Hopewell habitation site containing relatively undisturbed pit features, midden, and activity areas. We will review documents related to this project and provide ODOT and SHPO with feedback.

Zoar Levee and Diversion Dam repair.  USACE project, Tuscarawas County. We continue to consult monthly on impacts to the Zoar Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. The USACE and their archaeological consultants have conducted archaeological and multiple geophysical investigations in the project area. We reviewed and commented on the Phase 1 archaeological survey report, which included geomorphological, geophysical, deep trenching, and shovel test pit investigations. No direct impacts to the two historical archaeological sites documented are foreseen. We also reviewed and commented on the finding of effects and effects management options report. For information on this project see https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Current-Projects/Zoar/.

Wayne National Forest Plan Revision.  We continue to participate in monthly conference calls. The final assessment of the current conditions phase of the plan revision was released on July 17, incorporating most of the OAC’s comments. The Wayne is currently reviewing their “need to change” (from the last [2006] plan revision) document. This includes examining how current internal and external conditions identified in the assessment document affect the Wayne. The plan development phase should begin early next year, with the implementation and monitoring phase to be finalized in 2023. We are likely to have more meaningful input during the plan development phase. See plan revision information at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/wayne/landmanagement/planning.

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