Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Let's Mitigate

When a project, under the Section 106 evaluation process, results in a loss of historic character, it is termed Adverse.  An adverse effect can occur when otherwise well-intentioned actions such as changing out windows to increase energy efficiency changes the window type, or it can be the result of some other agency goal, such as the need for a larger or different building on the site, or it can be simply silly, as in an agency that just doesn't want an old building because it wants a new one instead.  All such actions are "Adverse" and "adverse," like significance (or pregnancy) either is or it isn't.  There is not really any standard for "more adverse" and when that is the Finding (a process term) you have to "mitigate."  Think of mitigation as Section 106 penance for damaging our collective heritage.

While every adverse effect has to be mitigated, there is no hard and fast rule as to what sort of mitigation is required, or how extensive it has to be, or even if it has to be directly related to the project. “Off-site” mitigation, meaning something that isn’t actually part of the project, is the new vogue and oft-times it makes sense. The Portland Bridge MPS project that I am working is such an “off-site” form of mitigation, for while it 's certainly related to the adverse effect of pending work on the Morrison Bridge, it’s not like we’re just putting up a plaque or taking some pictures (both of which, BTW, are pretty typical mitigation responses).

I’ve done mitigation that added to the scholarly record, writing a history of a project or the forces that created it, as a form of penance for the fact that it will no longer survive. I like to think that might make it easier to save some similar resource down the road, which I suppose is the point. Sometimes mitigation is HABS/HAER documentation, elaborate graphic and written studies of a resource that is going to change or disappear. HABS/HAER can be quite useful, if you are working on something similar too. But while documentation is beneficial, I try to find a public avenue for mitigation, something people can see, and hopefully appreciate.

While every situation is different, and not all options ever exist or even make sense for all projects, my personal favorite is to somehow tie the loss of a resource or historic character to an improvement in what replaces it, either through restoration of some other part of the project that can be accomplished or, more simply, through insisting that the new work, the one that necessitated the Adverse Effect, is something that people like me will find significant fifty years from now. Losing a historic resource is never fun. Losing it for a parking lot, or something hideous and without soul, is outright painful.


  1. So what if the mitigation planned never happens and the folks who fought for the historic structures are so upset with the crumbs they were offered they don't bother to protest? This was the case in many PWA public housing developments that were torn down during HOPE VI? I'm keeping my question out of OR, all PWA housing sites were on the other side of the Mississippi. I just read all your posts super fast but it seems like you'd like some preservation chat.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I have only been involved with one HOPE VI project, and it was mitigated. Generally when mitigation is proposed it is formalized in an MOA, a Memorandum of Agreement, that is signed by all parties including the Federal agency involved (in this case HUD) and the local SHPO. There is always a dispute resolution section in an MOA and it usually involves review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. If an agency agrees to perform certain mitigation, and does not, the ACHP should be notified by the SHPO of that failure (or the SHPO should be made aware if they are not already).