The people of this country at the federal, state and local levels recognize the benefits of preserving the tangible remains of our past such as historic buildings and districts, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes, for their contribution to the economy, education, and the quality of our lives. One of the important jobs of the Historic Preservation Division (HPD), mandated by federal and state law, is to review the effects of modern development projects on New Mexico's archaeological, historic and traditional resources. Central to HPD's review process is to balance the need to preserve New Mexico's archaeological, historic, and traditional resources with the needs of modern growth and development. The Director of HPD serves as the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and is identified in both federal and state law as the person responsible for administering historic preservation programs.
The review process includes assessments of modern development plans formulated by federal and state agencies and private industry. Assessments are made to determine whether the proposed activities will damage significant prehistoric or historic sites, and to facilitate work with the agency or proponent to avoid or minimize damage. By working together in early planning stages, we can usually find ways to minimize the impacts of development projects on New Mexico's prehistoric and historic heritage.
The New Mexico Legislature has recognized the benefits of historic preservation and provided for the preservation of historic places through four separate State statutes. The Cultural Properties Act (Sections 18-6 through 18-6-23, NMSA 1978) was originally enacted in 1969 and amended several times in the ensuing years. It established the central principles of preservation in New Mexico: "that the historical and cultural heritage of the state is one of the state's most valued and important assets [and] that the public has an interest in the preservation of all antiquities, historic and prehistoric ruins, sites, structures [and] objects of historical significance."
The Cultural Properties Act established the Historic Preservation Division and the Cultural Properties Review Committee (CPRC); created the Historic Preservation Publications revolving fund and the Historic Preservation Loan fund. The Act authorizes the CPRC to issue permits for archaeological survey and excavation and excavation of unmarked human burials to qualified institutions with the concurrence of the state archaeologist and SHPO; and establishes civil and criminal penalties for looting of archaeological sites and disturbance of unmarked burials. The Act requires that state agencies provide the SHPO with an opportunity to participate in planning for activities that will affect properties that are on the State Register of Cultural Properties or the National Register of Historic Places.
The Prehistoric and Historic Sites Preservation Act of 1989 (Sections 18-8-1 through 18-8-8, NMSA 1978), among other things, prohibits the use of state funds for projects or programs that would adversely affect sites on the State or National Registers unless the state agency or local government demonstrates that there is no feasible and prudent alternative and that all possible planning has been done to minimize the harm to the register site. The Division works closely with local governments, in particular, to find ways of accommodating development while still preserving the historic character of our downtowns and historic districts.
Cultural Properties Protection Act (Sections 18-6A-1 through 18-6A-6, NMSA 1978), enacted in 1993, encourages subdivisions of the state government to work with the Division to develop programs for identifying cultural properties under their jurisdiction and requires them to ensure that such properties are not inadvertently damaged or destroyed.
In 1995, the New Mexico State Legislature approved the Cultural Properties Preservation Easement Act, which provides for donation, holding, and assignment of cultural properties preservation easements. A "cultural property" is defined as a structure, place, site, or object having historical, archaeological, scientific, architectural, or other cultural significance deemed potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). In essence, this law allows a private landowner to give the historic aspect of real estate or other property to a non-profit organization to hold and maintain, while still keeping the right to use the other aspects of the property, including the right of sale. In some cases, the Internal Revenue Service sees this giving of the historic aspects of property as a charitable donation, which gains the landowner/honor a federal tax deduction.
Tax benefits for landowners willing to preserve cultural properties were enhanced in 2003 by the passage of the "Land Conservation Incentives Act," which strengthens the State's commitment to preservation of natural and cultural properties by providing additional financial incentives. Although this is not a program administered by the State, HPD welcomes this legislation and will work with private individuals and groups to provide information about the Act and to make referrals to non-profit groups that have decided to become easement holders.