Dig It: Who foots the archeology bill?

There have been several articles published in various newspapers in the last number of years about homeowners facing unanticipated archeology bills.

A pretty common statement is, ‘Why isn’t the government paying for this? Why do I have to pay?”

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The answer isn’t completely straightforward, but we have a user-pay system in B.C.

Most of the earlier archeological studies in B.C. were government-funded through the Ministry of Highways, which gave money to the Archaeology Sites Advisory Board to conduct work in advance of planned highways.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but ceasing in the early 1980s, a handful of archeologists would set out in the summer with a truck, a tent and some sturdy hiking books.

They would survey the various transportation corridors to document archeological sites.

In the mid-1970s, BC Hydro was booming with proposed developments and it conducted archeological assessments in advance of hydroelectric projects.

This was done in conjunction with universities in the province, moving to using private contractors by the mid-1980s, thus creating the user-pay model we see today.

After a re-write of the Heritage Conservation Act and the implementation of the Forest Practices Code in the mid-1990s, a wider net was cast for the requirement of archeological study.

Then both larger and smaller-scale developers became required to conduct archeological assessments where conflicts with sites would occur, furthering the payment-responsibility model we see today.

There are many reasons why an archeological study or assessment may occur.

A small percentage of archeology conducted in B.C. is academic in nature.

In these cases, the archeology is paid for by the institution undertaking the research, usually universities or museums, as they stand to benefit from the research through published research papers and future grants for additional research and study.

In most cases, however, archeological studies are done through the process of cultural resource management, when a proposed development conflicts, or may conflict, with archeological sites.

In many cases, our government does still pay for archeological assessments with taxpayer dollars when the archeological assessment is being conducted as part of a project or development that will benefit the taxpayers at large.

Highways are a common example.

Utilities corporations, such as FortisBC and BC Hydro, pay for archeological assessments when developments to install or upgrade those services are required. This in turn is paid through the fees collected by users of those utilities.

This payment model also applies to smaller developers.

An individual or company planning a residential or commercial development is financially responsible for any required archeological assessments, just as they would be financially responsible for undertaking a geotechnical assessment prior to designing a housing foundation on a steep slope, for example, or a hydrology study in advance of installing a septic system.

As it stands, those who are positioned to benefit from a given development bear the costs associated with any required archeological assessments.

If the profits or benefits from a given development are not going to be shared with the wider public, the users who will benefit bear the cost, be that a large mining corporation with shareholders, a family-run winery or an individual homeowner building a dock.

As a side note, a common theme archeologists observe when people are upset about facing unexpected costs is that they purchased a property without being aware there are or could be archeological concerns.

Currently, protected archeological sites aren’t listed on property titles unless there is a legal covenant or notice of heritage assessment in place, but these are generally rare.

In some cases, individuals can avoid being surprised by making this a consideration before purchasing property and discussing it with their realtor, especially if they intend to develop or make substantial changes to an existing development.

This type of due diligence could help alleviated the unexpected nature of some of these situations.

Kim Christenson is a Kamloops archeologist. Interested in more? Go online to republicofarchaeology.ca.
Dig It is KTW’s regularly published column on the history beneath our feet in the Kamloops region.
A group of nine professional archeologists living and working in the area contribute columns to KTW's print edition and online at kamloopsthisweek.com.

© Kamloops This Week


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