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Environmental Review Toolkit

Staff Liaison Programs

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SHPO Staff Liaison Program

Program Description

Photograph: California Capitol Building, Sacramento, California.

California Capitol Building, Sacramento, California.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons, Henri Sivonen, 1999.)

Program Benefits

  • The staff liaison program with the California State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) provides California DOT (Caltrans) with fast SHPO project review turnarounds.
  • SHPO staff working on Caltrans projects can participate in early project scoping.
  • The program has improved the working relationship between the SHPO and Caltrans.
  • Other state and Federal agencies, local transportation agencies, and even private-sector companies that have to deal with Section 106 compliance see the benefits of Caltrans’ liaison program, and want to participate by funding additional positions within the SHPO.

In 2005, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began funding review positions within the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) Office of Historic Preservation (i.e., the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)). Individuals filling these positions do not review Caltrans projects, but free up other SHPO staff to focus on Caltrans projects. This arrangement was formalized through an agreement between the agencies in February 2010. This staff liaison program allows the SHPO to fulfill its review responsibilities for transportation projects in a timely manner, and to partner with Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in developing and implementing measures to streamline the environmental review process.

The SHPO staff working on Caltrans projects provides technical assistance, coordination, and review services to Caltrans. The latter includes expedited Section 106 consultations; participation in early project scoping, planning, and development meetings; field reviews; project reviews; and other related activities. These services are provided on an “on-call” and “as available” basis. Caltrans currently funds three review positions within the SHPO.

Setting Up the Program

The staff liaison program began in 2005 as an informal program, and was formalized in 2010. The formal agreement between the agencies establishes a scope of work for the program, and includes agreed upon performance objectives and a process for the SHPO’s progress reporting to Caltrans.

These performance measures include timeframes for SHPO staff reviews of Section 106 findings and decisions, such as the definition of Areas of Potential Effects, determinations of National Register eligibility, and findings of adverse effects.

The performance measures are based on the procedural steps of the Section 106 process as defined in 36 CFR 800, and in the delegation programmatic agreement among the FHWA, Caltrans, SHPO, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, signed in January 2004.

The liaison program is monitored by the Section 106 Coordinator in Caltrans’ Division of Environmental Analysis in Sacramento.

Challenges Encountered

Program Elements

  • Historic Preservation in Early
    Project Development
  • Interagency Cooperation
    and Collaboration

The primary challenges were logistical obtaining funding for the program and explaining why the liaison program should be funded. These challenges were overcome by stressing the benefits of the program in terms of streamlining project delivery. These benefits were clearly demonstrated as the program moved forward.

There was a concern that Caltrans funding of review positions within the SHPO would influence the objectivity of SHPO reviews of Caltrans’ projects. Caltrans and DPR management were careful that such concerns were addressed through the structure of the program, i.e., in terms of the types of projects reviewed by the Caltrans-funded staff and who supervised these individuals.

Program Maintenance

Photograph: Two-lane rural highway, California.

Two-lane rural highway, California
(Source: PhotoDisc, Inc.)

Caltrans and the SHPO have developed and refined communications protocols over time. The agencies also use video teleconferencing to involve the Caltrans districts. These video conferences are held quarterly.

Funding for the liaison program comes out of the Department’s capital program – State highway trust account.

Staff turn-over at the SHPO has been a challenge, often making it difficult to enforce the interagency agreement’s scope of work. The SHPO is finding it hard to obtain staff for these review positions, which currently are two-year hires. The SHPO is trying to make them full-time.

Other challenges are the current statewide hiring freeze and small size of the SHPO staff. The hiring freeze prevents the SHPO from meeting its overall staffing needs, which places a greater burden on the staff funded by Caltrans.

If Caltrans’ project workload continues to decrease, due to budget cuts, Caltrans may no longer need the services provided by the SHPO liaison program.

Critical Factors for a Successful Program

Establishing good lines of communication among SHPO, Caltrans district staff, and the Caltrans Section 106 Coordinator in Sacramento.

June 1, 2012