National Trust Assistant General Counsel, Betsy Merritt, testified on behalf of the National Trust on June 5th before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials in opposition to an attempt by the railroad industry to exempt railroad facilities from Section 106 review under the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the National Transportation Act of 1966, the two most significant protections under federal law for historic and cultural resources.
The controversial proposal by the Alaska Railroad and the North Carolina Railroad seeks an exemption of historic railroad corridors and related properties and facilities from federal historic preservation laws, relying on the expansion of a provision in the most recent Surface Transportation law reauthorization (SAFETEA-LU) passed by Congress in 2005 that addressed the Interstate Highway System, 23 U.S.C. § 103(c)(5). Section 6009 of SAFETEA-LU included a new exemption for “de minimis” impacts on resources protected by Section 4(f). This was a carefully crafted, consensus-based amendment, which the National Trust was actively involved in developing. Furthermore, the original “de minimis” exemption could be used to address many of the railroads’ concerns regarding Section 4(f) rather than developing an entirely new and much broader exemption being sought by the railroad industry.
Ms. Merritt’s testimony emphasized that the National Trust strongly opposes such an exemption for the railroads as “inappropriate, unnecessary, unprecedented, and would inevitably encourage additional exemption requests” and that “Congress should ensure that the available administrative mechanisms [Section 4(f) and 106 processes] have been fully employed before even considering an expanded exemption. The sweeping breadth of the proposed exemption could potentially encompass the entire national network of railroads, including urban mass transit systems, not to mention historic depots and historic bridges, many of which have a high level of historical significance in their own right. The proposed exemption would potentially exclude from consideration virtually all conceivable property relating to the railroad — not merely the trackbed, the rails, ties, etc. — but all “properties and facilities” of railroad[s]”.
To read the complete text of Ms. Merritt’s testimony, please visit http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/transportation/additionalresources/ ESM_testimony_NRsubcte_RR-HP_06_05_08.pdf
Reprinted by permission of the Public Policy Department of the National Trust