Archeologists and environmental advocates are sounding the alarm on a state bill that would exempt the Department of Transportation from compliance with parts of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act on state-funded road construction projects.
The bill, which the Senate OK’d in February and is currently in a House committee, is meant to expedite projects funded through the nearly $1 billion transportation bill passed last year.
Local governments have contributed to the new tax, and proponents of the bill want that funding coming back as unencumbered as possible.
Projects under $100 million that receive no federal funding would not be required to complete cultural and environmental surveys and would limit public involvement in reviews.
The DOT reports that most state-funded transportation projects cost between $50 million and $60 million.
Opponents argue that GEPA regulations are necessary to preserve state archaeological sites, such as Native American burial grounds, abandoned African-American cemeteries and Civil War battlefields.
“SB 346 could affect a lot of cultural resources — known and unknown — along Georgia’s roadways,” Chris Manganiello, Georgia River Network policy director and a professional historian, said in a statement. “Just think about all historic roadside markers you see and consider what could be lost to the bulldozers.”
Georgia Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who sponsored the legislation, said spending taxpayer money on road projects requires eliminating consultants and bureaucratic paperwork.
It is unclear how the bill would impact local projects.
Gainesville Public Works Director David Dockery said most road projects in the city receive some federal funding because of the high costs of construction and right-of-way access, and that environmental or historical considerations must be taken into account per federal regulations.
A current study for Green Street, a beginning to possible solutions for alleviating traffic congestion, is subject to such reviews.
The road is especially busy as it serves as a key link between downtown and northern portions of Gainesville and North Hall County.
“Local governments typically hire private engineering firms to ensure compliance with NEPA on construction projects,” Dockery said.