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Cultural Resource Management: Uncovering the Past, Moving Projects into the Future

Location, location, location. Just like in real estate, your project’s location can make a big difference in the expertise and resources needed to ensure its success. For example: Does your project involve federal ownership of a property, federal funding, or federal oversight? Is your project on tribal land? Is it located near, adjacent to or abutting an existing cemetery? Is it located within a historic town or nearby a National Historic Landmark?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, it means your project may need to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires consideration of potential impacts to cultural resources by a new undertaking, such as a new development, road alignment, or alterations to an existing landscape. It also means that you need a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) team so that no stone is left unturned – sometimes literally – in this important process.

CRM: Preserving our cultural heritage

In general terms, CRM is dedicated to the study of our shared heritage of historic or cultural resources —human-made environments built in the past and associated objects or sites. At its core, the discipline of CRM has two goals: (1) to preserve this shared cultural heritage for future generations and, (2) to comply with federal regulations concerning the protection of cultural resources.

At Terracon, we divide CRM work into two fields: archaeology, the systematic analysis and study of physical remains and artifacts from the human past, and architectural history, the systematic study of the built environment and historic structures. Both require in-depth archival research, fieldwork for evaluation of cultural resources, and preparation of reports that summarize the findings of each study, and both can play a critical role in getting projects built on time and on budget – or for that matter, getting built at all.

Architectural history: assessing significant structures

1910 Weld County History BarnTerracon recently performed an architectural inventory survey (AIS) of a historic barn in Weld County, Colorado, as part of a project being performed with Federal Communications Commission oversight and requiring local government consultation. Based on this consultation, the local county planning department asked Terracon to evaluate the barn and determine its eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Our CRM project team determined that the barn and associated farmstead were linked to the initial exploration, settlement, and establishment of the city of Gill, Colorado, in the early 20th century. Built in 1910, the barn was one of the last of its kind in the county since other examples of the barn’s architectural style were destroyed in a fire in the 1930s. The barn was documented and added to the state’s archival record of historic places so that future generations may learn about this part of Weld County’s history. Thanks to Terracon’s efforts, our client received clearance from the appropriate governing agencies to move forward with their project.

Archaeology: discovering what lies beneath

Historic and cultural resources aren’t all above ground. One of Terracon’s municipal clients recently planned to install a water and sewer line adjacent to a cemetery with graves dating back to the early 18th century. To help them comply with state and federal regulations, Terracon completed an archaeological survey and cemetery delineation for the project. Our archaeologists learned that the fenced boundaries of the cemetery had changed over time, but that the burials beneath the existing fencing had not been relocated. Cemetery delineation fieldwork used a combination of invasive (shovel testing) and non-invasive (ground penetrating radar [GPR]) testing methods to determine the extent of the cemetery boundaries underground. The results of the testing confirmed our archaeologists’ hypothesis that human burials existed in the project’s right-of-way; thus, the team identified two graves capped over with coal tar in the 1890s during the installation of a railroad line. Based on our findings, we helped our client find a better location for their project and a linear installation was adjusted to avoid serious complications associated with disturbing human remains. These efforts saved the client thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time.

The future of CRM

CRM has matured from its infancy in collecting cabinets of curiosities, to a sophisticated field of study that requires the use of experts, new technologies, and innovative strategies to comply with a wide array of legislative requirements. More and more CRM projects require the finesse of socio-cultural sensitivity consultation with Native American tribal governments and other agencies for project development. Other burgeoning trends in CRM include non-invasive survey technologies like LiDAR (remote sensing that uses a laser to reflect light and measure topographic surfaces), GPR, and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping for architectural history and archaeological surveys. Increasingly, government and tribal agencies require our clients to use remote sensing technologies to allow for the recordation of cultural resources without physically damaging them. In this way, these non-renewable resources are preserved for future generations.

SIDEBAR: CRM SERVICES

  • Archival Research for both archaeology and architectural history
  • Archaeological Field Surveys (often called Phase I, Phase II or Class I or Class III Surveys)
  • Pedestrian (walkover) surveys
  • Shovel testing
  • Excavation of test units
  • Non-invasive surveys including ground-penetrating radar (GPR), LiDAR, resistivity, and electromagnetic testing
  • Archaeological site recordation
  • Data Recovery (for archaeological sites)
  • Artifact analysis
  • Cemetery Delineations
  • Architectural Inventory Surveys
  • National Register of Historic Places nominations
  • Design Guidelines for downtown areas
  • Visual Impact Assessments
  • Viewshed analysis
  • Memoranda of Agreement for projects with adverse effects
  • Tribal consultation
  • State Historic Preservation Office consultation