April 12, 2019
National Register of Historic Places
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW, MS 7228
Washington, DC 20240

Re: (RIN) 1024-AE49

I am writing on behalf of over 1,700 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), a non-profit organization composed of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s national park system. As a group we collectively represent over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and historic resources. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.

It is the judgment of our organization that the recently proposed changes to sections of the Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR 60, 36 CFR 63) governing nominations to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) are inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and would substantially impede future efforts to preserve our nation’s historic heritage.

SHPO and Keeper Authority Over Nominations and Determinations of Eligibility

The revised regulations are purportedly based on provisions of the National Parks Centennial Act (H.R. 4680, P.L. 114-289), passed in 2016, that amended the NHPA. We believe, however, that they are directly at odds with the intent of that law. The provisions enacted by Congress sought to clarify the role of State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) in a way that would ensure their clear voice in the nomination process and serve as a safeguard against Federal overreach. This goal is consistent with the original legislative intent of the NHPA; however, it appears to us that the proposed regulations would result in the opposite effect. Instead of guaranteeing appropriate consideration of state authority, they would diminish it by restricting the power to nominate any Federal property to the agency in control of it.

This sweeping expansion of Federal power effectively negates the process outlined in the NHPA, eliminates existing avenues of appeal, and disregards authority granted by NHPA to the Keeper of the National Register. If a Federal agency found it inconvenient to preserve a historic property, it could refuse to submit a nomination, leaving no way for citizens to call the agency to account. This is not an idle concern: some agencies have shown a long record of disregard for the historic properties under their care.

The proposed regulations compound this harm by extending this de facto veto power to the Determination of Eligibility (DOE) process, eliminating an important tool granted to the Keeper of the National Register. Experience has shown that although staff and budget limitations often pose obstacles to the prompt nomination of significant properties, an initial DOE by the Keeper provides substantial protection from immediate threat. Removing the Keeper’s authority to issue a ruling, without a specific request from the Federal agency already involved, takes away an important check on that agency’s actions.

Property Owner Objections

We are equally concerned by the radical shift in the regulations covering objections by property owners within an area under consideration for NRHP listing. As written, the NRHP explicitly states that a property or district cannot be listed if a majority of private property owners object to the listing. The new regulations attempt to impose a completely new standard, entirely unsupported by the law’s language, by directing that listing can be blocked by even a single owner provided such party owns a majority of the land area under consideration. The implications of this change are clear and disturbing. Large landowners such as developers or resource extraction interests can thwart the will of the majority of property owners. This new policy makes a mockery of the hallowed American principle, “one citizen, one vote.”

Lack of Consultation

Finally, we are dismayed by the process employed in developing the revisions, especially the failure to consult with Native American tribes, under the rationale that under Executive Order 13175, “tribal consultation is not required because the rule will not have a substantial direct effect on federally recognized Indian tribes.” This assertion is patently false. Numerous tribes have profound traditional connections to Federal lands, and the proposed changes pose a substantial threat to their ability to protect sacred sites and other resources of cultural and spiritual significance.

Recommendations

We recommend that the NPS make following changes to the proposed regulations:

  • 36 CFR60.10 – Concurrent State and Federal nominations should be retitled and revised to specify that SHPOs may make such nominations.
  • 36 CFR60.10(a) – This section should be revised to add a new second sentence to read as follows: State Historic Preservation Officers may nominate properties that include property under federal jurisdiction or control.
  • 36 CFR 63.4 – Eliminate revisions in paragraphs (a) and (c) to current rules on Determinations of Eligibility.
  • 36 CFR60.6(s) and 60.6(v) – Delete the language that specifies that the owners of a majority of the land area for a district or single property can prevent listing.

In addition, we urge the NPS to suspend implementation of any proposed changes until appropriate consultation with Tribal governments takes place.

In conclusion, we believe the proposed changes in National Register regulations contradict the letter and spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Parks Centennial Act. They pose a substantial threat to the preservation of historic properties under Federal control, and they subvert fundamental democratic principles by giving special power to some landowners at the expense of others. They should not be implemented without substantial revision.

Sincerely,

 

 

Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
201 I Street, NE #805
Washington, DC 20002