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Disturbing the Pieces

Is New Mexico doing all it can to protect its ancient history?

February 25, 2009, 12:00 am

Not all state offices leave developers to their own devices.

When undertaking any projects involving federal, state or private lands, the New Mexico Department of Transportation takes into account all archeological resources, not just those that are already listed for protection on the state or national registry, according to Blake Roxlau, the department’s cultural resources & archaeology program manager.

The transportation department has employed its own archaeologists for approximately three decades; today, seven employees manage the cultural resources program, which includes archaeology, historic buildings and consultation with local American Indian tribes.

According to Roxlau, during the last fiscal year, the agency conducted or required about 155 archaeological projects, investing some $2.2 million. Most of the projects were funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the state of New Mexico or private companies, such as utilities.

During that time, 97 archaeological sites were recorded, as well as a number of historic buildings. Most of the sites were protected during construction, he says, although 19 sites that could not be avoided were excavated and studied.

Roxlau points out that since much of the department’s work is federally funded, it has been required to “identify, protect or mitigate impacts to archaeological resources” since passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. New Mexico, he says, along with other states, developed archaeological programs within their transportation departments in order to manage and comply with federal laws. State regulations were enacted later, he says—“and the requirements of those statutes were incorporated into the already existing cultural resources management infrastructure.”

In other words, the agency treats all archaeological resources the same—and by the standards of federal laws—regardless of the land’s jurisdiction.

And it’s not only archaeological resources that are considered, Steve Koczan, who worked in the department’s cultural resources department from 1981 until 1999, says: “It’s the entire environmental process, and things like engineering, location study procedures,” he says. “There is an entire umbrella of federal regulations that come with that federal money.”

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