A new rule for protecting archeological and historical sites during development under Act 250 is in place after a legislative panel signed off the changes.
Officials from the Douglas administration said the new rule would maintain the protection of archeological sites while making it easier for applicants to comply with the state’s environmental protection and development control law.
“This new rule should make the process of applying for an Act 250 permit smoother and more predictable for an applicant under the ‘historic sites’ section of Criterion 8,” said Tayt Brooks, Commissioner of Economic, Housing and Community Development, including the Division for Historic Preservation.
Under Act 250, the division makes recommendations to the district environmental commissions on whether a proposed development would impact “historic sites,” including archeological sites.
The new rule clarifies that District Commissions, not the Division, have the final decision-making authority about such questions as whether to require additional field studies, and whether a site is historically significant enough to warrant protecting it.
“The division doesn’t issue permits,” Brooks said. “Our experts provide testimony to the District Commission about historic and archeological resources, and whether or not a project will adversely affect them.”
While the state recommends how much field study should be done to determine whether an area is historically significant and should be protected if a permit is issued, the District Commissions make those decisions
The new rule also clarifies that the definition of a “historic site” includes archeological sites that have not yet been discovered, and encourages applicants to work with the Division as early as possible in the planning process to identify and protect sites, even well before an Act 250 application is submitted.
“We can identify an area as historically significant and recommend to the District Commission that an archeological investigation be conducted by the applicant to ensure no undue adverse effect,” Brooks said. “The applicant can still present evidence to the commission disputing that.”
The new rule also sets additional time limits for reviews to make the process more predictable for permit applicants.
Brooks said the changes reflected the feedback received during five public meetings last summer around the state, and minor changes were made after a hearing before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which then recommended approval of the new rule.
Additional details and the final rule are available at www.HistoricVermont.org