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Federal Laws

Abandoned Shipwreck Act

Public Law 100-298

Under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA), the U.S. Government asserted title to three categories of abandoned shipwrecks: abandoned shipwrecks embedded in a State's submerged lands; abandoned shipwrecks embedded in coralline formations protected by a State on its submerged lands; and abandoned shipwrecks located on a State's submerged lands and included in or determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Upon asserting title, the U.S. Government transferred its title to the majority of those shipwrecks to the respective States to manage.

Guidelines prepared to implement ASA are intended to maximize the enhancement of cultural resources; foster a partnership among sport divers, fishermen, archaeologists, salvors, and other interests to manage shipwreck resources; facilitate access and utilization by recreational interests; and recognize the interests of individuals and groups engaged in shipwreck discovery and salvage. States and Federal agencies are free to adopt the Guidelines in their entirety, make changes to accommodate the diverse needs of each State or agency, reject parts as inapplicable, or use alternative approaches. Creation of public underwater parks and preserves is encouraged, and investigations of historic shipwrecks which remain in federal jurisdiction require federal ARPA permits.

More Information on ASA 


Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979

Public Law 96-95

Enacted in 1979 and amended in 1988, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), applies to all lands the fee title to which is held by the United States (other than lands on the Outer Continental Shelf and lands which are under the jurisdiction of the Smithsonian Institution), and Indian lands which are held in trust by the United States.

The purpose of the statute is to provide for the protection of archaeological resources on federal and Indian lands. Major provisions of the law are as follows:

  1. Archaeological resources are defined as any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest and are at least 100 years old and the physical site, location or context in which they are found. An object, site, or other material is of archaeological interest if, through its scientific study and analysis, information or knowledge can be obtained concerning human life or activities.

  2. Permits are required to conduct archaeological investigations on federal or Indian lands.

  3. Information concerning the nature and location of any archaeological resource on federal or Indian lands may not be made available to the public unless it is determined that such disclosure would further the purposes of the act and not create a risk of harm to the resources or to the site at which such resources are located.

  4. All archaeological resources, equipment and vehicles utilized in violation of this law may be subject to forfeiture.

  5. Each federal land manager shall establish a program to increase public awareness of the significance of the archaeological resources located on public and Indian lands and the need to protect such resources.

  6. The Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture and Defense and the Chairman of the Board of the Tennessee Valley Authority shall

  7. develop plans for surveying lands under their control,

  8. prepare a schedule for surveying lands containing the most important resources, and

  9. develop documents for reporting violations of the Act and establish when and how such documents are to be completed.

Prohibitions and penalties under the law are as follows:

  1. No person may excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface or attempt to excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface any archaeological resource located on federal or Indian lands without a permit.

  2. No person may sell, purchase, exchange, transport, receive or offer to sell, purchase or exchange any archaeological resource if such resource was excavated or removed from federal or Indian lands in violation of this Act or in violation of any rule, regulation, or provision in effect under any other provision of federal law.

  3. No person may sell, purchase, exchange, transport receive or offer to sell, purchase or exchange, in interstate or foreign commerce, any archaeological resource excavated, removed, sold, purchased, exchanged, transported, or received in violation of any provision, rule, regulation, ordinance, or permit in effect under state or local law.

  4. Any person who knowingly violates, or counsels, procures, solicits, or employs any other person to violate, any prohibition contained in numbers 1, 2, or 3 of this section shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both; provided, however, that if the commercial or archaeological resources involved and the cost of the restoration and repair of such resources exceeds the sum of $500, such person shall be fined not more than $20,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. In the case of a second or subsequent violation, upon conviction such person be fined not more than $100,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

  5. Civil penalties may also be assessed against any person who violates the provisions of the Act.

More Information on ARPA


Department of Transportation Act

Public Law 89-670

Section 4(f) of this 1966 act provides that the Secretary of Transportation:

...not approve any program or project which requires the use of...any land from an historic site of national, State or local significance as...determined...by the Federal, State or local officials having jurisdiction thereof unless (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of such land, and (2) such program includes all possible planning to minimize harm to such...historic site resulting from such use.

This section applies to all activities of the Department of Transportation including the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration among others. In addition to all National Register listed or eligible properties, Section 4(f) also applies to those properties determined significant by other appropriate authorities, such as local landmarks commissions, even though such properties may not be listed in or eligible for the National Register.

More Information on Section 4(f)


National Environmental Policy Act

Public Law 91-190

This legislation obligates federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact statement for every major federal action affecting the natural and man-made environment in order that they might exercise their responsibility

to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the nation may...preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage...(Section 101(b)(4)).

The federal government further reinforced this position in its codification of "Council on Environmental Quality Guidelines for the Preparation of Environmental Impact Statements" (40 CFR Part 1500). The environmental impact statements must include the comments of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as Section 1500.9 directs federal agencies to combine, to the extent possible, statements or findings concerning environmental impact required by other authorities such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Executive Order 11593.

More Information on NEPA


National Historic Preservation Act

Public Law 89-665 and amendments thereto; 16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.

Enacted in 1966 and amended in 1970 and 1980, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), provides for a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) to include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. These items may bear national, state or local significance. The act provides funding for the State Historic Preservation Officer and his staff to conduct surveys and comprehensive preservation planning, establishes standards for state programs and requires states to establish mechanisms for certifying local governments to participate in the National Register nomination and funding programs.

Section 106 of the Act requires that federal agencies having direct or indirect jurisdiction over a proposed federal, federally assisted, or federally licensed undertaking, prior to approval of the expenditure of funds or the issuance of a license, take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, building, structure, or object included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) a reasonable opportunity to comment with regard to the undertaking. This Council appointed by the President has implemented procedures to facilitate compliance with this provision at 36 CFR Part 800.

Section 110 of the Act directs the heads of all federal agencies to assume responsibility for the preservation of National Register listed or eligible historic properties owned or controlled by their agency. Federal agencies are directed to located, inventory and nominate properties to the National Register, to exercise caution to protect such properties and to use such properties to the maximum extent feasible. Other major provisions of Section 110 include documentation of properties adversely affected by federal undertakings, the establishment of trained federal preservation officers in each agency, and the inclusion of the costs of preservation activities as eligible agency project costs.

More Information on NHPA


Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

Public Law 101-601

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) became law in 1990, and contains two main provisions. The first requires federal agencies and museums receiving federal funds to inventory collections of human remains and associated funerary objects, and develop written summaries for unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony that are in the collections they own or control. Requests for repatriation of those remains or objects may be made, based on those inventories, by federally-recognized Indian Tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations which are culturally affiliated or for which they are lineal descendants.

Protection of Native American graves and associated cultural items is the second purpose of NAGPRA. Avoidance of archaeological sites containing graves is encouraged, as are intensive surveys to identify such sites. Archaeological investigations for planning or research purposes on federal and tribal lands, or other land modifying activities that inadvertently discover such items, require the federal agency or tribe to consult with affiliated Native Americans. Federal ARPA permits are required for archaeological investigations of grave sites on federal or tribal lands, in addition to consultation with affected groups.

NAGPRA also includes prohibitions against trafficking in human remains and related cultural items; a grants program administered by the Secretary of the Interior to assist museums and tribes with compliance with the Act; and establishment of a review committee to assist the Secretary with disputed cases and to develop regulations for the law.

More Information on NAGPRA


Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment

Executive Order 11593

This Executive Order, issued in 1971, mandates that all Executive Branch agencies, bureaus, and offices: 1) compile an inventory of the cultural resources--archaeological, architectural and historical properties, sites and districts--for which they are trustee; 2) nominate all eligible government properties to the National Register of Historic Places; 3) preserve and protect their cultural resources; and 4) insure that agency activities contribute to the preservation and protection of non-federally owned cultural resources. The deadline for Federal agency compliance with EO 11593 was July 1, 1973.

More Information on Executive Order 11593