Protecting History

    Illinois HABS/HAER Program

Protecting historic, architectural, and archaeological sites as part of the public planning process is one of the Division's primary responsibilities. Those duties are encompassed in the "review and compliance" process, which is carried out under provisions of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Illinois State Agency Historic Resource Preservation Act. These laws require state and federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on historic properties listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Click here for documentation requirements.

The Preservation Division reviews more than 15,000 projects every year under these two laws. Most projects do not involve places listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But, when a project does negatively affect a historic property, agencies consult with Division staff to seek ways either to avoid or to lessen harmful impacts. This may include revising architectural plans to ensure that the character of a historic property is maintained during rehabilitation or redesigning development plans to avoid archaeological sites. Those archaeological sites are often protected with a covenant.

State and federal agencies are required to identify any sites of historic, architectural, or archaeological significance located within the project area. This may require hiring an archaeologist to inspect the property for archaeological sites or hiring a local historian to research the history of buildings involved with the project. If sites are discovered, the project agency evaluates those sites in consultation with Preservation Agency staff to determine if they meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. If they do, the staff and the involved parties consider ways to change development plans to avoid harm to the resource.

Sometimes, however, plans cannot avoid harm to sites. If the property is archaeologically significant, a professional excavation is conducted to collect information about the people who once lived on or used the site. If buildings cannot be saved, an architectural and historical record of the property may be made in accordance with strict state standards (see Illinois HABS/HAER Program for more information).

A common misconception about these programs is that the Division's review can "stop" a project. In fact, both the state and federal laws authorize the funding agency to make the final decision about preservation. The Division's role is to assure that any adverse effects on cultural resources are recognized and that the feasibility of mitigation is considered before a project begins. This process also assures that the funding agency's activity and its impact on cultural resources is subject to public discussion.

At times, it is impossible to prevent adverse effects to occur to properties in implementing state or federal projects. In these cases, the parties enter into an agreement document that details how these adverse effects will be dealt with and offset. We also enter into operational programmatic agreements with agencies and communities to streamline individual project review. Click here for a list of individual project review agreements.