Wednesday, March 24, 2010

State Historic Preservation Division Placed on “High Risk” Status

The state agency responsible for implementing the National Historic Preservation Act is in danger of losing its federal funding, as well as its control over decision-making for federal agency compliance with preservation regulations.

The National Park Service (NPS), which is charged with oversight of the states’ implementation of the nation’s preservation program, has determined that SHPD is in non-compliance with several conditions of its federal grant, which is provided to the state to implement the federal preservation laws. The determination is that SHPD is a “high risk grantee.” The federal grant provides approximately 50% of the division’s $1.4 million annual budget.

NPS officials delivered the finding and compliance report to Laura Thielen, chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and Pua Aiu, State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) Administrator, on March 22. The NPS expects to release its report publicly within a few days.

According to sources at DLNR and at NPS, the report outlines a “corrective action plan” to be completed within two years, with benchmarks along the way, to come into compliance. Areas for improvement include review of any federal undertaking (including those requiring federal funding, permit, license or approval); conducting an inventory and survey of historic sites; keeping the National Register of Historic Places for Hawai‘i; managing the Certified Local Government program; and conducting preservation planning.

The action plan is limited to the non-discretionary items of the federal mandate, and should not be confused with requirements under state law (HRS 6E), including review of local permits and implementation of the state’s laws affecting native Hawaiian burials.

Under the action plan, the NPS expects to hire a full-time preservation officer to be housed in the Honolulu office to oversee implementation of the corrective actions. The officer will be charged with authority to administer the federal funding and be a signatory to compliance actions.

If adequate progress is made, the division will be returned to full status, with its funding and decision-making authority restored. If not, the federal funding will be discontinued and Hawai‘i will not be allowed to make determinations under the federal program. Several other states and territories have been through the corrective action process. None of the other historic preservation offices has failed to reverse the decline or has lost its status.