WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) today announced it is terminating consultation on the development of a Section 106 agreement with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the Resolution Copper Project and Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, Tonto National Forest (TNF) in Arizona. Pursuant to its responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the ACHP will prepare formal comments on the project to be submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture and invites comments from the public.
In a letter to Tom Torres, Acting Supervisor for the Tonto National Forest, the ACHP wrote: “It is clear that the proposed undertaking would destroy significant historic properties, including the highly significant Oak Flat, and the measures in the PA are not sufficient to adequately resolve those adverse effects. The ACHP believes that further consultation in this case would be unproductive and therefore, we are hereby terminating consultation pursuant to 36 CFR § 800.7(a)(4).”
In accordance with its regulations, the ACHP will now move 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 will seek the comments of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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.
The public is invited to submit comments for consideration by the ACHP starting February 11, 2021, and ending February 26, 2021.
The project would include the USFS approving plans for mining operations submitted by Resolution Copper Mining and facilitating the exchange of lands between Resolution Copper and the United States as directed by the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The proposed plan of operations would govern surface disturbance on USFS lands from mining operations, including extraction, transportation, and processing of copper and molybdenum. The land exchange would transfer 2,422 acres of USFS lands, known as the Oak Flat parcel, from federal ownership, which would then be used for the mining project. The NDAA requires the land exchange to occur no later than 60 days from the USFS issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The USFS issued the FEIS on January 15, 2021.
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.
Section 106 of the NHPA requires federal agencies, in consultation with state and tribal partners and other stakeholders, to consider the effects of undertakings, proposed to be carried out by them or subject to their assistance or approval, on historic properties to ensure that historic preservation needs are considered along with project requirements. In this case, the USFS initiated consultation in 2015 to seek an agreement among the consulting parties on measures that could minimize or mitigate the adverse impacts.
The ACHP participated in this consultation beginning in December 21, 2017. Recognizing that neither the NHPA or the NDAA authorizes the ACHP to stop this undertaking, the ACHP’s participation in the Section 106 consultation was focused on advising the USFS on steps it could take to comply with the Section 106 procedures and consider ways to address the impacts on historic properties, specifically to those of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes, that would result from the legislatively mandated exchange and the proposed mining project.
While the consultation process led to an agreement signed by other consulting parties, the ACHP declined to sign it, concluding the measures outlined in the agreement were not sufficient to adequately resolve the adverse effects on historic properties, and further consultation would not be productive.
Per its regulations, the ACHP has 45 days to provide comments to the Secretary of Agriculture; however, recognizing the USFS has initiated the 60-day clock for transferring the Oak Flat parcel out of federal ownership, the process to develop the ACHP’s comments is being expedited. This will afford the U.S. Department of Agriculture an opportunity to receive the ACHP’s comments and respond to them prior to reaching a final decision on the undertaking.
The ACHP will take into account the views of the public as it forms its comments to the Secretary.
Email information to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax information to: (202) 517-6381
Mail comments to:
Mr. Christopher Daniel
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
401 F Street, NW, Suite 308
Washington, DC 20001-2637
All comments submitted by 5 p.m. EST, February 26, 2021, will be part of the public record and reviewed by the ACHP prior to the finalization and transmittal of its formal comments to the Secretary of Agriculture.