A Georgia Senate bill (SB 346) which initially gave exemptions to state projects that cost less than $100 million from conducting cultural resource studies and was titled, the “Environmental Policy Act” was amended March 14, 2016 to protect cultural and historic resources found during transportation construction projects. The original version of bill SB 346 had failed to include protections for undocumented archaeological findings which would have potentially put at risk newly discovered sacred items or burials and this raised many concerns among archaeologists and Native Americans.
These studies are standard procedure for the Georgia EPA to identify potential historic findings accidentally unearthed during construction projects.
When the original bill was introduced, the Society of Georgia Archaeologists created a petition to oppose the bill and voice their opinion about how the bill could adversely affect undocumented findings. It has over 1,000 signatures and continues to increase everyday. One concern they point out is “the arbitrary dollar amount” of projects costing less than $100 million to be exempt.
During the meeting, House Transportation Chairman Rep. Christian Coomer said SB 346 had been a tortured and confusing process. ”I will not blame anybody for getting confused on the explanation of this”, he said.
Senator Ed Setzler questioned the revised bill, “We could unearth old buried things from Indian Mounds to Civil War entrenchments. I want to understand the specifics because this is pretty big policy.”
Josh Waller, GDOT Director of Government and Legislative Relations said, “the one area where there was a deficiency identified in subcommittee dealt with the historical and cultural resources portion.”...No matter what the law is, the department's interest is in protecting our cultural resources. Because if we do something the wrong way we will just be back here in this committee watching the law be changed back to restrict the department's ability to deliver roads and bridges.”
You can read the amendment at this link- http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20152016/SB/346
President and Founder of The Coosawattee Foundation, Georgia archeologist and advocate for Native American historical and sacred sites, Jim Langford was one of many opponents to the original version of SB 346.
On Thursday March 10, he discussed the potential damages that could occur if the bill passed in its original wording. he said the new wording in the substitute bill satisfied his original concerns and he could now support the passing of it.
The GEPA procedure is all that cultural and historical resources has as protection, and that protects archaeological resources. Langford continued, “We came to the table very concerned about this bill. We proposed some amendment language so I feel good about the process that you all have gone through I feel good about the discussion.”
The Georgia Senate Bill 346 was passed by substitution during the House Transportation Committee meeting on March 14, 2016 and has now been sent to the House and Rules Committee for final review.
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