DOI, USDA to increase investment in infrastructure on federal, tribal lands

BY STAFF REPORTS
06/28/2020 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – On June 25, the Department of the Interior forged a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture by signing an agreement to increase infrastructure investment on federal and tribal lands.

“Having the Bureau of Indian Affairs as part of the USDA’s National Programmatic Agreement will greatly enhance the tribes’ ability to finance their Section 106 compliance for the USDA’s Rural Development infrastructure investments that cross their lands,” Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney said. “The NPA supports and encourages the consideration of impacts to historic property and cultural resources early in project planning, protects the tribal consultation process, and benefits tribal applicants eligible for USDA Rural Development programs.”

The USDA-RD NPA is used by USDA Rural Development to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) when investing in water, power, waste treatment and telecommunications projects on federally managed lands, including federal Indian reservations. According to the Interior, tribal communities benefit from such development, and the DOI will partner with USDA Rural Development on helping tribes meet Section 106 compliance requirements. In addition to Section 106 requirements, all USDA Rural Development applicants must undergo an environmental review process before construction can begin.

The DOI also states that adhering to the NPA also furthers Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s priorities of informing land-use planning processes especially for public use and access; reducing administrative and regulatory burdens; supporting tribal self-determination, self-governance and sovereignty; and fostering partnerships to achieve a balanced stewardship and use of the nation’s public lands.

The NPA provides a way for USDA Rural Development to invest in infrastructure development projects in rural communities by allowing USDA Rural Development to obligate funds for a federal undertaking prior to completing the Section 106 process for projects on federally owned and controlled lands. An undertaking is a project, activity, or program funded, permitted, licensed or approved by a federal agency that can take one to five or more years to complete.

With the NPA, rural applicants, including tribes, who have difficulty obtaining resources to undertake and complete the Section 106 review process, including the analysis of project alternatives, can be confident that USDA Rural Development low-interest loans and grants will be available to assist them with Section 106 compliance, creating more project certainty for proponents.

Section 106 requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties and cultural resources and to provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation with a reasonable opportunity to comment. Federal agencies are also required to consult using Section 106’s four-step process with State Historic Preservation Offices, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, Indian Tribes (including Alaska Natives) and Native Hawaiian Organizations.

The USDA-RD NPA applies only to USDA Rural Development compliance with Section 106 and does not fulfill compliance with other federal historic preservation laws such as the Archeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

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