Mishandling jeopardizes Federal funds; project review halted

COLUMBIA, 4/14/13 (Beat Byte) -- A sternly-worded letter from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) takes Columbia city government to task for misrepresenting key aspects of the Providence Road Improvement Project (PIP); potentially manipulating a Federal funding process; and running afoul of Federal law.
City Hall's mishandling will likely send the 2-phase road-widening plan into a rabbit hole of state and Federal bureaucracy, complete with new assessments, resolutions, memoranda, and agreements. Possible violations of the National Historic Preservation Act may force additional review by the "Advisory Council on Historic Preservation," or ACHP.
A funding application Columbia Public Works director John Glascock submitted to MoDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) "did not provide adequate information to fully assess the complete undertaking," writes Mark A. Miles, director of the DNR State Historic Preservation Department.

Prior to the use of Federal funds for construction projects, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires "identification and evaluation of cultural resources" by agencies such as DNR. Those resources include historic homes.
DNR has halted further review of the project pending receipt of adequate information, "which the City has not, to date, provided," Miles wrote. The agency also rescinded an earlier finding: that "no historic properties" exist in its path. "It does appear there may be resources that are potentially eligible for including in the National Register of Historic Places," he writes.
Columbia city manager Mike Matthes, Columbia Historic Preservation Commission chairman Brian Treece, officials of MoDOT, the city's public works department, and Federal Highway Administration received copies of the 3-page April 4 letter.
Glascock's office was made aware of the problems two months ago, in a February 7 letter to traffic engineer Rick Kaufmann.

"In the event historic properties are identified—and it appears likely they would be—the City would have to consider alternatives 'to avoid, minimize or mitigate the effects to historic properties,'" Treece told the Heart Beat, quoting the Federal law. "Clearly, this action dramatically reduces the viability of Phase 1 and Phase 2."

PIP requires demolition of eight historic and stately homes: two during Phase 1 and six during Phase 2. As part of Phase 1, City Hall would also acquire a small vacant lot owned by Grasslands neighborhood association leaders John Ott and Robbie Price, which public works estimates claim will cost taxpayers $400,000. The Council will consider rescinding Phase 1, which they unanimously approved in November, on Monday night.

By breaking the project into phases and only applying for Federal funds in Phase 1, city officials may have tried to avoid Federal review of the more onerous and costly second phase, the DNR letter suggests. Known as segmentation -- breaking a unified project into smaller pieces to skirt review -- the practice is prohibited.
Why all the commotion months after the Columbia City Council approved Phase 1? A problem that's been typical of City Hall for as long as there have been small-town power brokers: lack of consultation and communication with average citizens and citizen commissions.
"The City of Columbia should have obtained the input of their local historic preservation commission," Miles writes. "This is particularly the case in this situation, when such concerns were expressed by the Commission at a meeting with other City officials well in advance of the City’s submittal. It is our expectation that projects submitted by Certified Local Governments have fully utilized the talents and expertise of their local commissions."