• 12/11/2020 2:39 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    2020 has been an unprecedented year with unique challenges, but throughout it all cultural resources management firms have continued working on fascinating projects across the country. As the year comes to a close, we want to celebrate your hard work! Please share with us the projects you are proud of this year. We will feature the submitted projects on the ACRAsphere and ACRA social media accounts. Whether the project is big or small, we want to hear about your fascinating work!

    Simply fill out the Google form below, or send us an email with the project details. We can't wait to feature your work!

  • 12/09/2020 2:21 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Last month, ACRA submitted comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding their proposal to reissue and modify nationwide permits (NWPs). The notice was initially published in the Federal Register on September 15 regarding the reissuance of 52 NWPs and 5 new NWPs. ACRA's comments focused on the need for pre-construction notifications, thresholds for oil and natural gas pipeline activities, and tribal rights in the process. ACRA's full comments can be viewed by members here.

    Additionally, ACRA was invited to comment further on the Forest Service National Phasing Programmatic Agreement (PA) under section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The original draft from the Forest Service was issued in the winter of 2019/2020, and ACRA provided comments as a part of the Coalition for American Heritage. ACRA's comments on the latest draft focused on:

    • Clarifying the linkage between HIPs and NEPA
    • Inclusion of Tribes and THPOs in the PA
    • Heritage Professional Qualifications
    • Avoidance strategies
    • And ensuring all consulting parties are included.

    ACRA members can read the full comments here.

  • 12/07/2020 4:31 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

    December is normally a fairly quiet month in Washington, as legislative battles give way to holiday parties and the countdown to vacation.

    Of course, this year there won’t be many holiday parties (unless you count the ones on Zoom), and most people will be stay-cationing. Plus, with a contentious presidential transition, a worsening pandemic and a struggling economy, December promises to be a busy month in the nation’s capital.

    On Capitol Hill, pressure is growing for another round of COVID-related stimulus. For months, Congress has battled over an economic recovery plan, with Democrats pushing for a $2.2 trillion plan and Republicans offering a smaller $500 billion proposal.

    Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators proposed a new plan totaling $906 billion. According to the Washington Post, “the plan would devote close to $300 billion in another round of small business aid; provide $160 billion for state and local governments; fund federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week; and devote tens of billions of dollars to other priorities, such as child care, hunger and vaccine distribution… The bipartisan proposal would not, however, include a new round of stimulus checks.”

    Congressional Democratic leaders indicated they could support the plan as the starting point of negotiations, and Republicans indicated an openness to it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R) spoke by phone for the first time in weeks, a hopeful sign that Congress could act on the plan soon.

    Any progress is good news: even as COVID vaccines race towards FDA approval, a weak jobs report on Friday underscored that the economy is a long way from recovery. And as the number of COVID infections and hospitalizations continues to skyrocket in nearly every part of the country, we could be facing a rough few months.

    The possibility of small business relief and funding for state and local government is particularly welcome to ACRA and its members. The economic downturn has crippled state and local budgets; the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 46 out of 50 states have cut their budgets in response to the pandemic and recession, and nearly half of states have taken steps that impact public employees, like layoffs, furloughs and pay freezes. These cuts will undoubtedly impact State Historic Preservation Offices, making federal aid critical.

    The small business support is also essential. With roughly 97 percent of ACRA member firms classified as small businesses, ACRA has been making a forceful case to lawmakers that additional loans and relief is needed to prevent layoffs.

    Even so, the $300 billion in small business aid in the package will not be a cure-all. The amount is roughly half of Congress provided in Paycheck Protection Program support last spring. To make matters worse, it was reported last week that a good chunk of those first PPP loans didn’t even reach small companies; according to the Post, “about 600 mostly larger companies, including dozens of national chains, received the maximum amount allowed under the program of $10 million.” In addition, many CRM firms have reported challenges with interpreting and complying with ever-changing rules from the U.S. Small Business Administration. To be fair, rolling out a massive program in a short period of time is inevitably going to lead to some confusion, but that’s no comfort to small firms trying to save jobs and follow the law.

    If more money comes, the SBA and other federal agencies will need to make sure the rules make sense come next year. That brings up the other big topic of discussion in Washington these days: the transition. Next week, electors will meet in all 50 state capitols and in the District of Columbia to formally cast electoral votes. As states continue to certify the results, opportunities for the Trump campaign to contest the results continue to dry up. This means that in less than 40 days’ time, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the nation’s 46th President.

    Transitions are always busy times in Washington as the president-elect forms their government and the outgoing president rushes burnish their legacy. This year is no different. Even as President Trump declines to concede the election, his administration is using the regulatory process to put their stamp on government. ProPublica has launched a website (https://projects.propublica.org/trump-midnight-regulations/) to track these so-called “midnight regulations.” As ProPublica notes, “It’s common for outgoing administrations to rush through last-minute rules, but these ‘midnight regulations’ can sometimes shortchange public input or thorough analysis, and they may tie the hands of the incoming president.”

    Among these last-minute rules is one we reported on in ACRASphere two weeks ago: the U.S. Forest Service’s final rule amending its NEPA regulations. We expect there to be additional regulatory moves between now and January that could affect historic preservation and the environmental review process.

    Ultimately, it will be up to the incoming Biden administration to decide which Trump administration rules to keep and which to amend. President-elect Biden says that will be a priority of his from day one, along with helping the economy recover from the pandemic. Like all incoming presidents, Biden has a long to-do list. But it is important that the new administration does not neglect the important role that cultural resource management professionals play in protecting our nation’s heritage, ensuring public participation in infrastructure projects, and creating jobs.

    That’s why ACRA President Nathan Boyless sent a letter to President-elect Biden last week outlining the organization’s priorities on Sec. 106, NEPA, the economy and other top issues. As Boyless wrote, “CRM professionals across the country are committed to building a better future for all Americans while preserving and protecting the past.”

    The right to advocate for our interests before Congress and the President (and the President-elect) is something that we can all celebrate this holiday season, even if the parties are all canceled.

  • 12/04/2020 11:45 AM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation is now accepting applications for the African American Cultural Heritage Fund.

    The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund provides grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000. Last year, 27 projects received a total of $1.6 million dollars, with projects spanning the US, from Historic Vernon Chapel AME Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma to National Center of Afro-American Artists at Abbotsford in Roxbury, Massachusetts. These grants are designed to advance ongoing preservation activities for historic places such as sites, museums, and landscape projects representing African American cultural heritage through grants to nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The Action Fund supports projects focused on African American cultural heritage, and can include: Capital Projects, Organizational Capacity Building, Project Planning, and Programming and Interpretation. You can read more about eligible activities and expenses, grant conditions, and other information on the program here.

    There is a two-step process to receive a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The first step, a Letter of Intent (LOI), must be submitted by Friday, January 15, 2021 at 11:59 PM local time, through the online grants portal. If the LOI is accepted, a full application will be requested of the applicant. Grant awards will be announced in July 2021.

    National Trust funding is available exclusively to nonprofits and government agencies, and any applicants who are invited to submit a full application will be required to also be Forum members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the Organizational level. The National Trust has many grant programs that may be of interest, which you can read more about on their website. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email the National Trust Grants Department at grants@savingplaces.org.

  • 12/01/2020 3:40 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Don't miss your chance to take advantage of ACRA's new benefit specifically for small firms: a mastermind group!

    This group will be customized to the attendees' needs, but will typically focus on goal setting, networking, and workshopping solutions to the common challenges that small CRM firms face. The mastermind will be twelve, 60-75 minute sessions, held in live online video chat (the attendees will work with the moderator to determine the specific schedule).

    When: Monthly, beginning January 2021.

    Where: Virtual, in real time.

    Instructor: Lauren Simonis

    Fee (Includes all digital materials and an additional 30 minutes for the first and last sessions for introductions, expectations, and close-out): $400

    This opportunity is only open to small firm membership levels, and there are only a few spaces left. Save your spot now!

    Join Mastermind Now

  • 11/30/2020 2:57 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    The incoming of a new presidential administration often means that significant federal policy changes are expected. As President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris prepare to take office in January, they have assembled a team of highly qualified professionals and volunteers to help assist with the transition of administrations. Presidential transition teams work to build a policy agenda for the new administration, gather information about federal agencies, vet potential political appointees, and develop a management agenda.

    From looking at the way agencies implement Section 106 to supporting small businesses in the ongoing pandemic, the transition team will consider a number of policies and actions that could affect CRM firms. ACRA wants to ensure that CRM voices are heard in the discussions and has sent a letter to President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris addressing the issues most important to our members and the industry. View the full letter here, and let us know in the comments what issues you think the administration should address in the first few months.

  • 11/25/2020 3:58 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team
    The Paycheck Protection Program loans may be over, but the Small Business Administration (SBA) is reminding business owners that if you are a small business, nonprofit organization of any size, or a U.S. agricultural business with 500 or fewer employees that have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you can still apply for the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

    For normal disaster loans, the funds can only be used for losses not covered by insurance or FEMA, or for business operating expenses that could have been met had the disaster not occurred. The COVID-19 EIDLs are a bit different. These loans can be used for working capital and normal operating expenses. The COVID-19 EIDL advance is no longer available, but the loans are - if your business and employees are still experiencing hardship, an EIDL loan is 

    ACRA previously did a comparison of the Paycheck Protection Program loans and EIDLs here, and you can get more information on the loan terms, eligibility, and application on the SBA website.

  • 11/24/2020 11:57 AM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

    The political world has a parallel universe feel to it these days. In one universe, Joe Biden is filling out his White House staff and planning his policy priorities for once he takes the oath of office. In the other universe, President Trump and his administration are contesting the election results and charging towards a second term.

    In reality, President Trump’s paths for securing a second term have increasingly dwindled, as all 50 states and the District of Columbia prepare to certify the results of the election. On December 14, electors will meet in state capitols to cast their votes based on the popular vote winner of their state. Those votes will be formally counted at a joint session of Congress on January 6. Once a candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, the count is “deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President.” Two weeks later, the winning candidate is sworn in. Barring some unprecedented occurrence, that will be former Vice President Joe Biden.

    So what awaits the 46th President when he enters the Oval Office? His to-do list is long: dealing with a global pandemic, a weakened economy, tensions with foreign adversaries, the impacts of climate change, racial strife and much more. But his first task is nominating Cabinet members and hundreds of political appointees that will steer the alphabet soup of federal agencies for the next four years.

    Of most interest to ACRA members is Biden’s choice for Secretary of the Interior. The current thinking is that outgoing New Mexico Senator Tom Udall is the front-runner for the post, but Congressional Democrats are making a concerted push for one of their own, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who would be the first Native American Cabinet member in U.S. history. Both Udall and Haaland have been proponents of cultural resource management and protection during their time in Congress.

    Beyond the Interior Secretary, an incoming President Biden will need to name heads of subagencies as well. Of particular interest to conservation advocates is the Bureau of Land Management, which lost nearly 70 percent of its D.C. staff during the Trump administration when its headquarters was moved to Colorado. As Ken Rait of the Pew Charitable Trusts, told The Hill newspaper, the outgoing administration “pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall, and someone needs to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” According to The Hill, front-runners for the head of BLM include Steve Ellis, a veteran of the Obama-era BLM, who backers think could bring stability to the agency.

    Once staff are in place, high on President-elect Biden’s to-do list is reversing numerous Trump administration executive orders and rules. It is not uncommon for new presidents to roll back executive actions their predecessor made; President Trump reversed many of former President Obama’s rules, for example. But the increasing use of executive orders and agency rulemaking to effect policy changes in recent years – a function of a gridlocked Congress which has frustrated many a president’s agenda – means that incoming administrations can make big changes quickly.

    One Trump administration rule that is sure to be in the Biden team’s sights is the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) reform of the National Environmental Policy Act, issued last summer. The rule dramatically reduces the scope of NEPA and decreases stakeholder input and public participation, all of which ACRA believes threatens the protection of our environmental and cultural resources. Because the changes were issued as a regulatory rule and not an executive order, a President Biden could not cancel them with a stroke of his pen on January 20; instead, a new rule will need to go through the regulatory process. That said, a Biden administration can get a head start on nullifying the NEPA rules by directing agencies not to update their internal guidelines based on the Trump rule.

    That approach will not necessarily work with the U.S. Forest Service, however, which last week issued a final rule amending its NEPA regulations that environmental advocates say weakens requirements for the Forest Service to study the potential environmental harm of new development and publicly share scientific analysis of proposed changes. ACRA expects that to be a major topic of interest for the incoming administration.

    Beyond personnel and rules changes, the incoming Biden administration hopes to secure Congressional approval for a large-scale infrastructure bill; during the campaign, Biden promised to push for more than $7 trillion to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, fight climate change and create jobs. Whether he will succeed depends in part on the January 5 special election in Georgia, where the state’s two GOP Senators face stiff challenges from Democratic candidates. If both Democrats win, the Senate will be tied 50-50, with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. If either Republican wins, the GOP keeps control, and Biden’s big plans will need to be scaled back. Even if Democrats gain functional control of the Senate, securing enough votes for a major infrastructure bill will not be easy: conservatives worry about the price tag, while progressives believe Biden’s plans do not go far enough in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    No matter the prospects for a big infrastructure bill, it’s clear that Congressional Democrats will push these themes during the next Congress. Top Democratic staff on the House Natural Resources Committee shared with ACRA last week that climate change, diversity and equity, and job creation will be the three big prisms through which the Committee will address all policies ideas that come before it.

    All three of these issues have resonance within the CRM industry, and how Congress chooses to address them will impact the sector for years to come. Helping the economy recover, increasing diversity in the industry, and protecting our cultural heritage from environmental and climate threats are top priorities, no matter which party won the election.

  • 11/20/2020 2:44 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    So You Think You Need a PA...

    December 10, 2020 | 2:00 - 3:30 PM (EST) | Register Now

    The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is back for ACRA's final webinar of the year! Join us on December 10 at 2:00 pm EST for So You Think You Need a PA....

    Many federal land management units – including bases, campuses, buildings, forests, and parks – benefit from Section 106 Programmatic Agreements that establish efficiencies for routine projects and maintenance, repair, and operations activities. In this webinar, Program Analysts Katharine Kerr and Chris Daniel will identify the pros and cons of pursuing such a PA and provide practical advice to program managers on how to develop one.

    Space is limited, so register now to reserve your spot. As a reminder, ACRA members benefit from a firm-wide registration fee - once one person from a member firm registers, others can register for free. Contact us for information on subsequent registrations.

    Register Now

  • 11/19/2020 1:59 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    The Forest Service has published its final rule regarding regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). From the summary published in the Federal Register:

    The amendments in the final rule will increase efficiency in the Agency's environmental analysis and decision-making while meeting NEPA's requirements and fully honoring the Agency's environmental stewardship responsibilities. The final rule adds a Determination of NEPA Adequacy provision, which outlines a process for determining whether a previously completed Forest Service NEPA analysis can satisfy NEPA's requirements for a subsequently proposed action. The final rule also establishes six new CEs, consolidates two existing CEs into one, and expands two existing CEs. The six new CEs include activities related to recreation special uses, administrative sites, recreation sites, and restoration and resilience projects, along with two CEs for certain road management projects. Two existing CEs are consolidated into one covering clerical modification or reauthorization of existing special uses. The two expanded CEs cover (1) approval, modification, or continuation of special use authorizations on up to 20 acres of NFS lands and (2) decommissioning of both unauthorized roads and trails and National Forest System roads and trails. These CEs are described in greater detail in the comment responses below and in the document titled, “Supporting Statement: Categorical Exclusions For Certain Special Uses, Infrastructure, and Restoration Projects,” available at https://www.fs.fed.us/​emc/​nepa/​revisions/​index.shtml.

    You can view the full rule here. ACRA is analyzing the rule and will update this post with additional information on how CRM is affected.

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