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Cultural resources can connect wind project developers with local communities

By Sydne B. Marshall

Increasingly, wind energy project developers are recognizing that consideration of cultural resources can be helpful in gaining local project acceptance, financing, and timely approvals.

Cultural resources include archaeological sites, standing structures, cultural landscapes, and traditional cultural properties. Attention to cultural resources can serve as a gateway for communication with locals and an avenue for community project support.

Developers who choose to inventory, evaluate, and avoid impacts to cultural resources demonstrate their understanding of, concern for, and appreciation of the cultural heritage of their project's host communities. With planning, such activity may be embraced without significant negative effect on project schedules and budgets.

Managing cultural resources follows the same paradigm as managing other environmental issues: establish baseline conditions; perform surveys in areas of potential effect; evaluate if inventoried cultural resources qualify as significant; avoid impacts to significant resources; understand the historic preservation priorities of local communities; develop reasonable, acceptable, and community-worthy mitigation of impacts to significant resources; and keep permitting agencies informed.

Savvy cultural resources management can form a lasting connection with local communities. Given the pride that many communities have in their towns, villages, and landscapes, addressing cultural resources in a sensitive manner presents a perfect opportunity for a developer to gain the favor of a host community. Working in partnership to sponsor a local preservation project, record an archaeological site, or develop cultural education tools can benefit the developer, the community, future local generations, and new visitors to the area.

Cooperative support can involve something as simple as providing public interpretation of a local landmark through signage, input to a community website that educates viewers about local history, or sponsorship of a project implemented by the local historical society.

A developer's contribution to local historic preservation may even involve arranging occasional access to private lands that historically were of spiritual or ceremonial significance to a group. Another type of support might involve collecting oral histories that result in a rich and valuable historical resource for community members to share with each other, their children, and future generations.

These types of activities can be part of a strategy to help make wind development projects more acceptable to a broader community audience, and they may be implemented without disruption to the development schedule and without significant cost. Further, by sponsoring field surveys to identify archeological sites, historic architecture, cultural landscapes, and traditional cultural properties, a developer will have added substantial information to state cultural resources data bases and thereby contributed positively to future regional scientific studies of cultural resources. 

Community stakeholders may welcome a new wind energy project while still feeling strong connections to place. Developers' planning and permitting processes need to address these feelings. Sentimental connections to landscapes, vegetation, and structures represent shared community memory. While connection to place tends to be rooted in emotion and lacks quantitative and objective scientific rationality, place attachment is best respected by planners and developers. Project planning and permitting should take these stakeholder connections into consideration.

These connections present opportunities for creative responses. Mitigating impacts to cultural resources will result in positive lasting contributions to a host community. Mitigations need not be elaborate nor excessively expensive, but they must be locally meaningful.

Involving stakeholders in selecting and implementing appropriate mitigation activities results in added good will and project support. Through these activities, a developer's project becomes more integrated into the local community, bringing added meaning to being a good neighbor and community participant. The local State Historic Preservation Office and other oversight entities will also view a developer's company in a highly positive light, a useful consequence especially if additional projects are considered within the state.

Developers who determine early in planning and site selection if there are significant cultural resources within a project area can make good decisions about minimizing and avoiding impacts or addressing them through mitigation. Throughout the development period, determining and evaluating whether a project triggers requirements for specific permits, or if cultural resource surveys are desired even if not required, will serve the project well. Involving cultural resources specialists in the planning stages will also be helpful. They have useful information that may save time, money, and aggravation as your project and micro-siting progresses. Maximizing avoidance of significant sites early on will translate into fewer sites to be tested and fewer that will undergo mitigation of adverse impacts. If faced with adverse project effects, involving stakeholders in decisions about the types of historic preservation activities that may be performed as mitigation for adverse effects to archaeological sites, historic architecture, cultural landscapes, or traditional cultural properties will leave a lasting positive contribution to the community.

Sponsorship of historic preservation activities that benefit local stakeholders are a way to connect with a host community. Meaningful consideration and mitigation will demonstrate good will and put into action intentions to be a good, long-term neighbor. 


Sydne B. Marshall, Ph.D., RPA, is Cultural Resources Discipline Lead at Tetra Tech EC. Over her 30-year career, she has been involved with many alternative energy projects throughout the U.S. She has also developed and implemented community outreach efforts for numerous projects.

November/December 2011