The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fun with Lead Agencies

Note: The previous version of this post ended up getting deleted accidentally, so I thought I would re-post it. As there are many new readers (at least according to the comments that I receive), I thought that it might be worthwhile to put it up.

I have a livelihood because archaeological work is required by a set of federal, state, and local laws when construction is going to be performed in areas considered archaeologically sensitive. It is the responsibility of the agency issuing the permits to determine the parameters of archaeological work to be done, and to tell applicants what those parameters are so that the applicant can produce an application that meets the agency’s standards and regulations.

That seems pretty straightforward, right? The agency knows the rules, they tell the applicant the rules, and the applicant complies.

But what happens when the agency doesn’t tell the applicants the rules?

Case in point - I have a project that requires permits from a particular government agency. We were asked to perform a survey of a right-of-way (ROW) for transmission lines, and we needed to know how large an area the agency required be surveyed (the California Energy Commission, for example, requires that a corridor made up of the ROW plus 50 feet on either side of the ROW be surveyed). I went to look up the agency’s regulations, and could not find them anywhere. So, I called the agency to ask, and found myself speaking with the head of their environmental office.

Me: "Hi. I’m an archaeologist who is working on project such-and-such, and I am trying to work out the survey plan. How wide a corridor do you require?"

Her: "Well, it depends on the project’s ROW size. A larger ROW requires a larger survey."

Me: "Yes, I’m aware of that. But how do you determine that? The CEC requires 50 feet on either side of the right-of-way, do you have a similar method of determination?"

Her: "No."

Me: "So, how do you work it out?"

Her: "Well, we know the width of the ROW for different projects, and we base it on that."

Me: "Okay. Well, for project such-and-such, do you know how large a corridor you want to see surveyed?"

Her: "I can’t answer that."

Me: "Why not?"

Her: "Well, if I tell you that I want a survey corridor of X-width, then you’ll survey X-width."

Me: "Well, yes, that’s the point."

Her: "Well, if we decide afterwards that we would rather have a wider corridor, then you can hold us to our original determination."

Me: "Why not specify a wide corridor to begin with?"

Her: "That’s not our role."

Me: "But you’re the lead agency. Defining terms for licensing is both your role and your responsibility."

Her: "We decided that we no longer want that role."

Me: "So, is someone else the lead agency now?"

Her: "No, we’re legally required to be the lead agency."

Me: "Then it’s still your role and responsibility to define the terms of the license."

Her: "We choose to wait until the applicant has completed the studies before we define those terms."

Me: "But those terms define the parameters of the studies."

Her: "That’s not our problem."

At this point, I decided to change tactics.

Me: "Okay, it’s a 100-foot wide ROW. What if we survey a 200-foot wide corridor. That would be in keeping with the CEC regulations, would that also satisfy your agency?"

Her: "Unofficially, I think that that sounds reasonable."

Me: "And officially?"

Her: "Officially, I have no comment, we do not determine the parameters of the studies until after we have received the application."

Me: "But the regulations requires that the study results be included as part of the application."

Her: "Yes."

Me: "How are we supposed to conduct studies to include the results as part of the application if you will not define the parameters of the study until after the application?"

Here: "That’s not our problem."

And Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, Rinse, Repeat....

And then there’s the joy of dealing with the folks at county planning offices. I just had a frustrating conversation with a fellow at one of the local counties. They have been referring land developers to us, and they have been telling the developers "you need an archaeological report."

The problem is that everything we do involves an archaeological report. Do they need monitoring? Do they need survey? Do they need significance testing? Do they need data recovery?

I told the fellow at the county that we needed for them to tell the applicants what kind of report they needed (I should add that I have been trying to contact this fellow for a few weeks, and the fellow only got around to returning a phone call today, so calling the county for clarification appears to not be an option). His response: "we do tell them. We tell them that they need a report!"

Me: "Well, that’s pretty vague. Everything we do results in a report."

Him: "Well, I don’t know much about archaeology, so I don’t think that I can answer the question."

Me: "I’m not asking you a question about archaeology, I’m asking you to explain the county regulations, which you are supposed to be an expert on, to the applicants so that they will know what kind of work the county needs."

Him: "Well, the county regulations are online."

Me: "Yes, and they require that I know which county planning zone a project falls into, but you folks don’t make that information public, so I can’t determine what the client needs based on that."

Him: "Well, it’s going to vary based on the area that they are in."

Me: "Yes, but you have requirements for each area, and you issue permits, and that indicates that you know what you are looking for for each area."

Him: "Well, we have to look through the databases, and all of that, to figure out what they need."

Me: "Yeah, but you know what they need so that you can issue the permits. Can you just tell the applicants specifically what they need?"

Him: "It’s not that simple."

Me: "Why not?"

Him: "Well, we have to go through the databases..."

Me: "Yes, yes, I know, but you have requirements, which indicates that you know what those requirements are, which indicates that you can tell them what those requirements are so that they can tell us."

Him: "Well, it’s not that simple, you see, the database..."

Me: "You have requirements for permits?"

Him: "Yes."

Me: "You know what those requirements are when the permits are requested?"

Him: "Yes."

Me: "You know whether that includes survey or monitoring for a specific project?"

Him: "Yes."

Me: "Then you can tell the applicant what you need them to submit."

Him: "Well, I don’t know anything about archaeology."

Me: "I’m not asking you about archaeology, I’m asking you what the county requires for permits."

Who’s on first? What’s on second? And so on, ad naeseum...

1 comment:

Evan Davis said...

Do you do skits at Archeological conferences? You should write one up.