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with Section 106 Section
106 in Action Archive
of Prominent Section 106 Cases New York: Construction of Foley
Square U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, New York
Construction of Foley Square U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, New York
(Closed Case Follow-up)
Agency: General Services
In December 1991, ACHP and the General Services Administration (GSA)
agreed upon measures to mitigate the impact of constructing a Federal office
building in New York City at the site of the African Burial Ground. A National
Historic Landmark, the burial ground is an 18th-century cemetery for enslaved
Africans that offers a rare glimpse into their life and experience. Agreement
on mitigation was the culmination of a difficult Section 106 review, and
recent efforts to reinter human remains from the site have proved equally
In 1990, an unknown number of skeletal remains were destroyed and removed
from the construction site before local archeologists were alerted to
the situation and subsequently contacted ACHP. GSA had not addressed
construction of the office building during consultation two years earlier
to develop a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on a related courthouse annex
construction project, despite knowing of the potential presence of the
burial ground. GSA had also failed to include the local community in consultation,
particularly the African American community of New York.
Despite local and national protests, GSA proposed to completely destroy
the hundreds of burials within the project site and erect the new Federal
building as originally designed. Following congressional intervention,
a compromise mitigation plan was reached and incorporated into an amended
MOA for the proposed courthouse and Federal building.
The amended MOA requires GSA to: 1) develop and implement a research
design for the cemetery and other archeological sites within the project
area; 2) sensitively remove all exposed human remains; 3) analyze the
disturbed human remains and associated grave artifacts; 4) reinter the
human remains and associated grave artifacts; and 5) develop a memorial,
interpretative site, and public outreach program. Additionally, GSA was
required to submit quarterly reports to ACHP and the New York City
Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) summarizing actions taken to comply
with the amended MOA.
While GSA has continued to work with contractors to implement the amended
MOA, ACHP has not received timely or consistent status reports.
In the spring of 1999, GSA did seek ACHPs guidance regarding
how to conclude the mitigation plan, particularly the approved research
design. ACHP provided comments, but did not hear from GSA again
until about 18 months later, when the agency notified ACHP of its
intent to reinter the human remains in August 2001.
Three weeks before the proposed reburial ceremony, GSA submitted a letter
reporting on the status of its responsibilities under the terms of the
amended MOA. While continuing to endorse reinterment as soon as possible,
ACHP questioned whether GSA had documented that the terms of the
MOA had been satisfactorily fulfilled.
The status of the scientific analysis of the grave-associated artifacts
that will be reburied with the human remains is of particular concern,
as is GSAs failure to coordinate with a broad segment of the community.
The National Park Service (NPS) has voiced serious concerns regarding
GSAs compliance with the research design, especially completion
of the artifact analysis. NPS also noted that GSA failed to consult with
NPS regarding the implications of the proposed reburial on the overall
integrity of the site and its status as a National Historic Landmark.
Such concerns appear to have been a significant factor in GSAs decision
to postpone the planned reburial ceremony.
Because of concerns about effects to the integrity of the site and the
lack of appropriate coordination, ACHP supported GSAs decision
to reschedule reinterment. Not anticipating an indefinite postponement,
ACHP has requested that GSA provide a detailed and comprehensive
status report demonstrating satisfactory compliance with the terms of
the 1991 MOA and approved research design. Further, ACHP has asked
GSA to schedule a consultation meeting with ACHP, NPS, LPC and
other consulting parties to review and consider the status report and
the proposed reburial.
It should be noted that GSAs archeology laboratory and Office of
Public Education and Interpretation were located in the World Trade Center
complex. Fortunately, the human remains and some associated artifacts
from the African Burial Ground were not housed at that facility at the
time of the September 2001 terrorist attack. No GSA staff were injured,
but the status of the many artifacts that were on site, as well as records
and files, remains uncertain.
Staff contacts: Charlene
Dwin Vaughn and Laura
June 6, 2002
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