The Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) acts as the principal environmental review agency for the state with regard to assessing the impacts of development projects on historic properties.
Historic properties include both standing structures and archaeological sites. While SHPO's focus is on federal undertakings as specified in Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, SHPO also acts with regard to state law (Minnesota Statutes 138.40, 138.665, and 116d).
Because SHPO has well-established systems and experienced staff dedicated to environmental review, the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) has traditionally deferred to SHPO for commenting on development projects, under Minnesota Statutes 138.40 and 116d. This allows OSA to focus on burial site reviews (Minnesota Statutes 307.08) and other duties specified under the Field Archaeology Act.
Construction and Development Plans
OSA will review plans and reports per state law (Minnesota Statutes 138.40, Subd. 3), but keep in mind the background above and the resource constraints of the office (as outlined on the Your Role page under When to Contact Us ).
Informal agency or developer requests may also be reviewed by OSA, even if no official OSA action is required, such as when the development is on private land and does not threaten burial sites. Citizens often ask the state archaeologist for information regarding potential impacts to archaeological resources by developments in their neighborhood. This information is provided as necessary and when possible.
Reviewing Projects for Potential Archaeological Impact
When OSA is engaged in a project review, it first examines the scope of a project to see if it has potential to harm an archaeological site.
Note, this is what federal procedures under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act refer to as an undertaking and what is generally not subject to a Categorical Exclusion (CATEX) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Scope is a combination of project location and proposed construction impacts. If there is potential for a project to cause harm, OSA then examines the Archaeological Site Database to see if there is a known site in the immediate project vicinity.
If there is a known site in the immediate project vicinity, OSA will provide the agency with information on the known site limits so the site can be avoided if possible. OSA may request updated plans illustrating the site avoidance or site impacts.
If no known sites are present, we then look at the general project location to see if it is in a location known to have high potential to contain archaeological sites based on the regional profile.
If there is no known site but the project is in a high potential location, the state archaeologist will generally recommend an archaeological survey unless the agency can demonstrate that the location has been totally disturbed. Total disturbance means original post-glacial soils have been removed. The agency is responsible for all costs associated with the survey and must use a professional archaeologist who has a state license.
If a significant site cannot be avoided by the project, the state archaeologist may recommend an extensive excavation for the purposes of data recovery prior to the site being destroyed. Once again, the agency is responsible for all costs associated with the excavation and must use a professional archaeologist who has a state license.
The state archaeologist is involved in environmental review processes established by the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (Minnesota Statutes 116D).
Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs)
Responsible Governmental Units (RGUs) for Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs) are required to provide a copy of all EAWs to the state archaeologist. The state archaeologist has 30 days to comment on the EAW.
Because the state archaeologist has many duties and is short-staffed, responses to Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) submittals are sent only if:
- an archaeological survey is recommended; or
- a known archaeological site or burial site should be avoided within the Area of Potential Effect (APE).
Furthermore, if the project will be reviewed under federal Section 106 or will otherwise be reviewed by SHPO, OSA defers review and comment to SHPO unless unrecorded burials or sites on non-federal public property are involved. There are also times when OSA is simply too busy with more critical duties so EAW reviews do not get completed within 30 days and no comment is issued.
RGUs ultimately make all the important decisions for EAWs, including their adequacy and the need for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). If OSA or SHPO recommends archaeological survey, testing, or mitigation for a project covered by an EAW or EIS, it is the RGU that makes the decision as to whether or not this is necessary.
Minnesota Water Law Rules
The state archaeologist has several duties specified in Minnesota Water Law Rules (6120), which implement state law pertaining to the development of shoreland (Minnesota Statutes 103F).
Agency reviews of shoreland development must consider impacts on significant historic sites. Significant historic sites include archaeological sites listed in or determined eligible for the state or national historic registers. Unrecorded cemeteries are automatically considered to be significant historic sites.
No structure may be placed on a significant historic or archaeological site in a manner that affects the values of the site, unless adequate information about the site has been removed and documented in a public repository.
The state archaeologist can determine if sites are eligible for the state or national historic registers (per Rules 6120.2500, Subpart 15a). The state archaeologist must approve any structure placed nearer than 50 feet from an un-platted cemetery (per Rules 6120.3300, Subpart 3e).
The review procedures suggested above and under the Field Archaeology Act should be followed for agency shoreland zoning decisions.