WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) today informed the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) it will avail itself of the 45-day time limit to issue comments to the Secretary of Agriculture as part of the termination process for the Section 106 review of the Resolution Copper Project and Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, Tonto National Forest (TNF) in Arizona. Earlier this week, USFS announced it would rescind the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD), placing the land transfer on hold.
The ACHP sent a letter to the USFS explaining that because the land will not be transferred next week, the ACHP intends to avail itself of the 45-day time limit afforded to it by the regulations and issue its comments no later than March 29. The ACHP closed the public comment period for development of its advisory comments on February 26, having received more than 500 comments regarding the proposed undertaking and its potential effects to historic properties. These public comments will be considered by the ACHP prior to the finalization and transmittal of its formal comments to the Secretary.
The ACHP had initially indicated it would provide its comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by March 5, short of the 45-day timeline and before the date Oak Flat would have been transferred out of federal ownership, as required by the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. On March 1, Tonto National Forest announced, following direction of USDA, that it would withdraw the Notice of Availability and rescind the FEIS and draft ROD for the Resolution Copper Mining Project and Land Exchange. This step was taken in response to the input received from multiple parties and the public. The USFS intends to conduct additional consultation with Indian tribes and evaluate its required environmental, cultural, and archaeological analyses for the project.
On February 11, 2021, the ACHP notified the USFS that it was terminating consultation on the development of a Section 106 agreement with the USFS in the Resolution Copper Project.
The USFS determined that the project would directly and permanently damage the Chí’chil Biłdagoteel Historic District, known more broadly as Oak Flat, and potentially affect more than 500 sites eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The USFS identified Oak Flat as a historic property of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes and a Traditional Cultural Property significant to multiple Apache tribes.
In accordance with its regulations, the ACHP began to develop its final advisory comments on this undertaking and proposed resolution of adverse effects on historic properties to the Secretary of Agriculture. As part of this process, the ACHP initiated a public comment period to seek the comments of the USDA, TNF, all consulting parties, and the views of the public. Upon receipt of the ACHP’s comments, the Secretary must respond to them prior to reaching a final decision on the undertaking to conclude the Section 106 process.