Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Wyoming: Hulett Airport Construction
October 1998 Update
After reconsidering the finding of the Denver Airports District Office that construction of the Hulett Airport would have no effect on Devils Tower, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters reaffirmed that finding in September. As a result, pursuant to the Council's regulations, further review under Section 106 is not required. Project planning and development can proceed unless litigation challenging the effect finding is lodged by a third party. The Intermountain Region of the National Park Service has requested that the Council membership review the facts of the case. We are awaiting further clarification of the NPS position from the Director's office.
The Town of Hulett has an application pending with the FAA for approval of the construction of a general aviation airport. Last year, FAA completed an Environmental Assessment and made a finding pursuant to Section 106 that the project would have no effect on historic properties, including Devils Tower, a traditional cultural property eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Hulett Airport would be located 7.5 miles away from Devils Tower. Estimates indicate almost 10,000 aircraft operations a year will occur at the airport by the year 2015. At issue is whether operation of the airport will result in overflights of Devils Tower that will impact continuing use of the site by Native Americans.
Perhaps best known to many Americans as a setting in the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Devils Tower is a natural feature that is significant as a traditional cultural property of importance to a number of Native American tribes, including the Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiawa, and Eastern Shoshone. Although now administered by the National Park Service within Devils Tower National Monument, the tower continues to be the site of traditional rituals and ceremonies carried out by Native Americans.
While expressing concern that development of the airport could have audible and visual impacts on Devils Tower, the Wyoming SHPO did not unequivocally object to FAA's no effect finding during the time allotted under the Council's regulations. Both the National Park Service and the Medicine Wheel Coalition for Sacred Sites of North America asked the Council to review the no effect finding.
In the opinion of Council staff, FAA had not applied the Criteria of Effect appropriately, and the project does have the potential to impact Devils Tower. However, under the regulations, Council views on no effect findings are not binding on agencies. FAA need only "reconsider" its finding. Accordingly, after reconsidering the finding, the Denver Airports District Office reaffirmed its original no effect finding. Because of the significance of the resource, Council staff then worked with the Department of Transportation's representative to request a review of the finding by FAA headquarters.
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