Low-profile bill threatens environmental and cultural compliance on road projects

An Iowan who cares about historic preservation is raising awareness about an obscure and harmful bill, which would also drive down wages on some road projects. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I came across a post on Facebook today, initiated by an email from the Iowa Archeological Society. We need to pay attention to this! Here’s the post in its entirety:

Dear IAS Membership,

The IAS has recently learned about a proposed Iowa bill that, in our interpretation, will negatively impact historic preservation in Iowa in relation to transportation projects. And we need your help!

About the Bill:

The seemingly innocuous language of this bill, would redirect the flow of federal transportation dollars as completely as possible out of local systems work (i.e., by county engineers, planners, communities, etc.) substituting instead state dollars and thereby eliminating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)/National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) compliance requirements for which Iowa has no state-level equivalents. In other words, Iowa does not have any state-level protections for historic or cultural resources. If no Federal funds are used for these secondary transportation projects, there is no trigger for environmental or cultural resources compliance.

An example project that under the proposed bill would have seen no archaeological work is the MLK, Jr. Parkway road project in Des Moines which impacted 13PK61 and its highly significant Oneota village and Fort Des Moines #2 components. This was a community-level “local roads” project not a “primary” road project and so fits the type the proposed bill is attempting to shield from use of federal dollars and NEPA/NHPA compliance.

Senate File (SF) 184, passed the Senate Transportation Committee on February 2. This bill has not yet been brought to the Senate floor for vote or debate, and we are working to find out when that will occur. Once it passes the Senate, it will go to the House. The companion bill (House File 203) has not yet passed the House Committee. UPDATE from desmoinesdem: House File 203 was brought to the floor on February 9 and passed by 54 votes to 41.

SF 184:
“An Act authorizing the use of primary road fund moneys for the secondary road and municipal street systems.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF IOWA:
Section 1. Section 313.4, subsection 1, Code 2017, is amended by adding the following new paragraph:
NEW PARAGRAPH. c. The commission may, after consultation with stakeholders including regional planning affiliations, metropolitan planning organizations, the Iowa state association of counties, and the Iowa league of cities, periodically allocate moneys from the fund for the establishment, construction, and maintenance of the secondary road system and the municipal street system in exchange for retaining all or a portion of federal aid road funds [bold italics added for emphasis] that would otherwise be allocated to counties and cities.

Under current law, moneys in the primary road fund (PRF) are appropriated for the establishment, construction, and maintenance of the primary road system, including the drainage, grading, surfacing, and construction of bridges and culverts; the elimination or improvement of railroad crossings; the acquiring of additional right-of-way; all other expenses incurred in the construction and maintenance of the primary road system; and the maintenance and housing of the department of transportation.

This bill allows the state transportation commission, after consultation with stakeholders including regional planning affiliations, metropolitan planning organizations, the Iowa state association of counties, and the Iowa league of cities, to periodically allocate moneys from the PRF for the establishment, construction, and maintenance of the secondary road system and the municipal street system in exchange for retaining all or a portion of federal aid road funds that would otherwise be allocated to counties and cities.”

What you can do:

If you are willing, please contact your State Senator to express your concern. How to find out who your local lawmakers are and suggested talking points are listed below. We are more likely to have success with preservation initiatives if we have solid, statewide representation—legislators respond to their constituent’s concerns—especially those who will call and engage, particularly from rural areas. Are you willing to be a conduit between the IAS and your local lawmakers? If so, please send me an individual email to let me know. I am happy to provide you with additional non-partisan fact-based information regarding potential impacts to archaeological and cultural resources in your community.

How to find your legislators (State Senator and House Representative): https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find

House Transportation Committee Members: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/committee?ga=87&groupID=682

Suggested Talking Points:
• I support infrastructure development, but I also support historic preservation.
• I am concerned this bill will negatively affect historic preservation and cultural resources because eliminating federal aid dollars from secondary/local road projects means federal legislation requiring consideration of nonrenewable cultural and natural resources won’t apply.
• I would like to see the bill amended to require cultural and natural resource investigations prior to inadvertent destruction.
• Can I count on you to convince your colleagues in the Senate to vote for such an amendment?

Thank you for your time!

Regards,

Megan H. Stroh

  • thanks for the heads up

    I didn’t know about that angle. As with most legislation, the lobbyist declarations provide a clue as to whose ox will be gored. In this case, labor and environmental groups are against the bill. The Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa Association of Counties are in favor.

  • It is true

    I have been following that legislation too. There is so many things that are being rolled back. This one of them.

  • This info is much appreciated

    Thanks for the heads-up about this bill. I have to wonder if it is being pushed in part because of the conservation fight against a new Linn County road that will seriously compromise a state preserve that has rare species. The new road is being enthusiastically hailed by local developers, though, and of course developers have far more influence over Iowa cities and counties than conservationists.

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