Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Benning/City of Columbus
Agency: U.S. Army
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This undertaking will result in the transfer of lands out of Federal
ownership and protection and could have placed at risk properties of
traditional cultural importance to Indian tribes (Criterion 4).
- The undertaking also initially raised questions regarding the Army's
compliance with both its own and Council policies regarding tribal
consultation (Criterion 2).
At a formal ceremony hosted by the U.S. Army at Fort Benning on
December 13, 2000, Council member Jim Huhta signed (on behalf of the
Chairman) a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the proposed exchange of
land between Fort Benning and the City of Columbus.
Fort Benning land exchange
(Photo courtesy of Fort
Execution of the MOA drew to a close a long
and difficult consultation process to address how future ownership and
development of the parcel being conveyed by the Army might impact sites of
importance to 11 Indian tribes whose ancestral origins and cultural
traditions are tied closely to the region. Also participating in the
ceremony were the Mayor of Columbus and other city representatives, as
well as representatives of the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office
(SHPO) and the tribal governments.
In his remarks, Dr. Huhta praised the Army’s improved
government-to-government relations with the tribes, the leadership and
vision of the Mayor and other city officials, and the determination and
commitment of the tribes. Following the meeting, Chairman Slater also
commended Fort Benning in correspondence to the Secretary of the Army.
The MOA provides for placement of preservation covenants on the land
conveyed to the city, thus helping to ensure that preservation values and
respect for sites of traditional importance to the tribes will guide
future uses of this property.
A proposal by the Army for an exchange of land between Fort Benning and
Columbus, Georgia, posed a number of Section 106 challenges which the
Council has been assisting the Army in resolving. Authorized by Congress a
decade ago, the transfer would provide Fort Benning with land suitable for
training exercises and the city with land for development.
In 1997, an MOA that would have allowed the project to proceed was
executed among the Army, the City of Columbus, the Georgia SHPO, and the
Council. However, with the advent of regulatory reform initiatives by both
the Army and the Council, Native American consultation issues that had
remained in the background during the earlier Section 106 consultation
process emerged as critical flaws in the earlier agreement.
The shortcoming came to the attention of the Army's Environmental
Center, which responded by requiring Fort Benning to reopen compliance
with both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106.
The goal was to address the effects of the proposal on the full range of
historic properties, including traditional cultural places of concern to
Indian tribes. More than a dozen archeological sites with importance to
tribes have been identified in the affected lands. Consultation with a
host of federally recognized Indian tribes with ancestral ties to the area
In the course of revisiting issues under NEPA, the Army reconfigured
the boundaries of the lands to be exchanged, however, the new proposal
still did not reflect consultation with Indian tribes. The Army proposed
instead to delegate the responsibility to consult with the tribes to the
city as part of covenants to be included in the transfer of the property.
The Council notified the Army that this would be an insufficient basis
for a new MOA and that outreach by the Army to the tribes would be a
prerequisite to concluding such a document. Ft. Benning then initiated
government-to-government consultation with the tribes, with productive
on-site meetings held in April and August 2000.
This case highlights the importance of tribal consultation on
undertakings affecting ancestral lands. The Army has done an admirable job
in compensating for earlier oversights and has set a model at Fort Benning
of constructive government-to-government consultation. The case has also
focused attention on the difficulty of maintaining the safeguards provided
for in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act when
property is conveyed out of Federal ownership.
report on this case
Staff contact: Martha Catlin
Posted March 21, 2001