Section 106: A Primer

Winter 2012 Vol. 26 No. 2Section 106 is a powerful tool for preserving America’s cultural legacy.  Its obligation that federal agencies “stop, look, and listen” before jeopardizing historic resources has saved thousands of historic places across the country.  For the Section 106 review process to be truly effective, however, preservationists of all ages and stripes must understand how it works and their role in the process.  As such, the next issue of the Forum Journal, which should arrive in your mail box by mid-April, focuses entirely on Section 106. To get you up to speed on Section106 before the journal arrives, Forum brings you the following excerpt from a journal article by Milford Wayne Donaldson, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and California State Historic Preservation Officer. 

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) created the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to administer Section 106. Section 106 stipulates that a project carried out by a federal agency or needing federal assistance or approval, an undertaking, must be examined to determine if it poses an adverse effect to a property listed in, or eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places.  If so, the responsible federal entity must attempt to negotiate measures that avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects. Of critical importance, Section 106 and the ACHP give the public a seat at the table when such undertakings may threaten historic properties. It is a vital means for the non-federal community to engage with federal agencies when historic properties are threatened.

Section 106 generally moves in concert with other required federal planning actions, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. Unlike NEPA, which focuses on public notification and comment, Section 106 is based upon consultation with involved and impacted parties. To comply with Section 106, the relevant federal agency must carry out the following four steps in consultation with state historic preservation offices (SHPOs), tribal historic preservation offices (THPOs) and other consulting parties: 

  • Initiate the Section 106 process to determine whether it applies to an undertaking.
  • Identify potentially affected historic properties.
  • Assess impacts on those properties.
  • Resolve adverse effects.

Even when no other regulatory process is involved (such as NEPA), Section 106 still applies when historic properties may be affected by an undertaking. The federal agency must complete the process before it makes a final decision on whether to carry out, assist, or approve the undertaking. Therefore, it requires federal decision makers to consider historic preservation issues as an essential early step in project planning. It thus gives grassroots preservationists a voice in efforts to preserve historic properties.

For more information on ACHP and Section 106 visit