There is a bill on the Georgia Assembly’s docket, SB 346 that would create exemptions for state transportation projects under $100 million from following Georgia EPA standards, including the requirement to file a cultural resource study when state projects stumble across potential archaeological findings.
In plain language, if road project workers find evidence - such as native sacred remains - that should be investigated, the law would exempt them from reporting it and would allow the project to continue uninterrupted. This bill could have national implications.
SB 346 has not gained much attention due to several larger, more publicized controversial bills being voted on by the the General Assembly of Georgia. However, this compact amendment to HB 170 Transportation Funding Act of 2015 could pack a punch. With the potential to have national repercussions if voted into law, it is now rapidly gaining attention by Native American opponents.
Georgia contains a treasure trove of archaeological history spanning from the Clovis culture, the first inhabitants of North America, to massive Mississippian Mound builders and a host to many significant archaeological sites of colonialism, slavery and Civil War. The Ocmulgee National Monument documents continued habitation from the last ice-age as far back as 17,000 years ago.
In North GA you can find the beautiful Etowah Indian Mounds where it is suspected that Hernando de Soto marched through and of course many Trail of Tears National Historic Trails. As urban developments encroach into the rural areas of Georgia and closer to known areas of significance, the likelihood of continued archaeological discoveries is certain.
The Society for Georgia Archaeology (SGA) and Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists (GCPA) are concerned about this amendment and have kept this bill in the forefront of their communications and are actively campaigning to have the amendment stopped.
The Society of Georgia Archaeologists websitesays, "The legislation does not protect previously unknown or undocumented archaeological sites, including unknown burial places. No archaeologists will be employed in an effort to locate and record sites when studies are exempted by the current legislation ...The lawmakers are concerned about keeping costs in check; however they fail to recognize that when studies are not conducted there is a real possibility of encountering burial sites, prehistoric sites, or other resources of great concern to local communities…. In our view, this proposed exemption is arbitrary and threatens Georgia’s irreplaceable archaeological sites and shared cultural heritage.”
The SGA has sponsored a petition on Change.org to raise awareness about the proposed amendment. https://www.change.org/p/georgia-state-house-contact-your-representative-to-oppose-sb-346
The petition states, “The SGA recognizes the need for transportation improvements but the proposed SB 346 does not contain language that would provide an alternate form of protection for undocumented discoveries.”
Richard Moss of Loganville, GA posted to the petition comments,”SB 346 is a risky and ill-thought amendment that guts the GEPA, the only state statute that ensures government projects have been screened for potential adverse impacts to cultural resources like unmarked cemeteries, American Indian sites, and battlefields. Its passage would threaten Georgia’s magnificent and irreplaceable archaeological sites...As a lifelong Georgia resident, CRM archaeologist, and current President of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists (GCPA), I strongly oppose SB 346.”
The Georgia Senate passed SB 346 on Feb 29th with a 36 to 15 vote, and it has now crossed over to the Georgia House of Representatives, where it will be met with much more outside opposition. The Highway Subcommittee on Transportation, chaired by Rep. Sam Watson, is meeting Monday, March 7th at 2 pm to discuss the bill but final voting will be held during Georgia Assembly floor sessions March 10-11.