The PennDOT and IUP Partnership: A Personal History – V

The PHAST and the PHURIOUS: The Third IUP Contract (2007-2012)

In the fall of 2005, IUP floated a proposal to begin a Master’s Degree in Applied Archaeology.  In July, 2007, MOU 430647 for collections processing expired; however, the work had not yet been completed, given the vast number of collections still needing processing.  Both PennDOT and IUP felt that the partnership was worth continuing, for the collections processing, the Byways to the Past Conference and associated publication series, and the other possible joint activities.  On August 27, 2007, another 5-year MOU (431034) was executed. This time the collections processing was folded into the main MOU and going forward from 2007, PennDOT and IUP operated under a single MOU.

Beginning in early 2007, we began discussing a new way to conduct geomorphological studies.  Geomorphological studies would be conducted prior to an archaeological investigations so that we could confirm that any floodplain was stable and not active during the period of human occupation.  If we could determine that the floodplain was active, then there was no need for further archaeological study as there would have not been a stable land surface for archaeological deposits.

While this was good in theory, the economics weren’t necessarily practical.  Keeping in mind that most applications of this pre-archaeological work would be for bridge replacements in a limited footprint, it still cost upwards of $10,000 to conduct and had maybe a 50-50 chance of eliminating the need for an archaeological investigation that would cost in the neighborhood of $12,000-20,000. The high cost of geomorphology was linked directly to the design consultant bringing in a subconsultant specialist, with the prime’s overhead and profit.  Was there a way to cut the middle man out?

Indeed there was.  At that time, one of the foremost geomorphologists working in Pennsylvania was Frank Vento, who was a professor at Clarion University, also a State-Related University and therefore a state agency.  As an experiment, IUP added Dr. Vento to the IUP agreement, essentially hiring him, for the purposes of conducting geomorphological studies.  That opportunity came at Hunter Station in 2008, and demonstrated proof of concept.  We then turned around and created an MOU with Clarion University and Dr. Vento to conduct geomorphological studies going forward. Our partnership with IUP and the existing MOU permitted this proof of concept to be tested with little effort. At that time, IUP did not have a geomorphologist on staff, so there was no conflict over activities, and the task assignment did not diminish our active list of projects with IUP.  Over time, the Clarion University MOU proved to be enormously cost-effective, providing studies at approximately $2,500 each. Having a cost-effective solution for conducting geomorphology really opened this technique as a tool for our staff archaeologists, making its use much more common.

2008 brought changes to the Byways to the Past Conference. 2007 would be the last year that the Byways Conference would be held on the IUP campus, and as an explicit task assignment through the MOU.  By 2008 it was felt that the remote location of the Conference was a barrier to bringing more people together.  That year the Conference was successfully held in Harrisburg, demonstrating that the Byways Conference could be held outside of IUP.  Attendance from 2007 to 2008 was up 80% and costs were down, as (free) Commonwealth venues were selected.  The story of the Byways Conference after 2008 is worthy of its own story, full of drama, intrigue, treachery, and state government at its most incompetent.  I will leave that story for another day, largely to protect the guilty.

In 2009, IUP conducted a Phase I archaeological survey for a Wetlands Bank in Greene County.  This was unusual as generally we would have archaeological surveys conducted and paid for by the projects through the prime engineering design firm and subconsultants.  In this case, the proposed bank was not yet a programmed project, but there was a need to determine whether the proposed wetland site contained archaeological resources. If it did, the bank would be designed around the resources.  If the resources were large enough, the entire site might be abandoned as a banking location.  This was an opportunity for Central Office to perform a favor for the District by absorbing the costs of the archaeology, and more importantly, by providing the contracting instrument to get the work done.

Coincidentally, in 2009, IUP finally launched its Master’s in Applied Archaeology Program, and in the following Spring PennDOT launched the PHAST program – PennDOT Highway Archeological Survey Team.  The concept, developed by Joe Baker, paired an advanced graduate student from the MA program with 3 IUP summer interns and a cultural resources professional (CRP) archaeologist provided by PennDOT. (Note that by this time, the descriptor QP had been supplanted by CRP so this terminology will be carried forward.)  This IUP team of 4 would be scheduled around the state to conduct quick-hit archaeological surveys, mostly Phase I’s and small Phase II’s, under the direction of the CRP.  The advanced graduate student would serve as field director over the interns and under the CRP, who would oversee the work and sign off as principal investigator. Angela Jaillet-Wentling was the first field director.  Roughly 15 projects were completed in that first year, 2010.  After a fashion, PennDOT finally had its own in-house archaeology program.

I bear the responsibility for this not happening sooner, and I certainly had my reasons.  In my prior job at the Maryland State Highway Administration, I oversaw both the management of archaeological consultants and the conduct of archaeological studies by my staff for SHA. These were often in conflict as projects needed to get done regardless of who did them and there simply wasn’t enough time to both manage the consultants, review their work and reports, and simultaneously conduct archaeological surveys, analyze the results and write the reports.  To make matters worse, there was project creep as the Project Managers thought we could conduct larger and more complex field projects each time.  I vowed that at PennDOT we would not make the same mistake and discouraged any attempt to set up a program for the conduct of archaeology in-house.  Joe Baker, who had come from the Commonwealth Archaeological Program (CAP) within the SHPO, had both the skill and inclination to continue to conduct archaeological studies, as did most of the staff archaeologists, as do most archaeologists in general.  It is the old definition of the profession, “Archaeology is what archaeologists do.” In a catch as catch can manner, some of the CRPs did do archaeology for their Districts, but never officially sanctioned by me or Central Office.  It provided some friction, and until the PHAST program emerged, no real resolution in the conflict.  What finally swayed me was the fact that the proposed program was well-defined and limited in scope.

The mutual benefits of the PHAST program were immediately recognizable.  First, PennDOT got over a dozen projects a year completed at a fraction of the cost from by our regular design consultants and subconsultants.  We were saving $250,000 a year.  Secondly, it benefitted the IUP MA program by giving a student hands-on experience supervising crew, which is not only an important skill set for becoming a professional archaeologist but also is one of the requirements for meeting the Secretary of Interior Standards for a professional archaeologist.  It cannot be taught in the classroom.

IUP gained a useful lab for training its students.  As a state-related institution, IUP is also measured on how well it partners with other state agencies. The partnership with PennDOT clearly helped the Anthropology Department in street cred. And not insignificantly, the paltry (paltry when compared to contracting with private consultants, for sure) sums PennDOT paid IUP in overhead was hard currency in a university that counts its pennies.

PHAST fed and sustained our summer intern program, ESTI (Engineering, Scientific, and Technical Interns) sponsored by PennDOT. In a way, the interns provided to PHAST were free even though they were paid, and paid well I might add. ESTI interns made roughly $4 an hour more than regular students on campus.  The budget to fund ESTI came out of a different budget from ours, so we were literally using other people’s money, even though it was all PennDOT.  The field director’s salary and budget came out of the IUP MOU, so those individuals worked for IUP while the interns and Principal Investigator worked for PennDOT. Field and travel expenses for the field director was picked up by the IUP MOU, but travel expenses for the PennDOT-paid interns was covered by PennDOT.  Administratively, the arrangement was more than complex.  Joe Baker supervised the program, but as he was not classified as a supervisor, he could not technically supervise the interns, which involved matters of signing travel expense vouchers and time sheets. I picked those up during the Summer, as well as officially supervising the other interns working with the PHMC. 

The 3 PHAST student interns gained real on-the-ground field experience for the summer, again another valuable skill that is also captured in the Secretary’s Standards.  In addition, when these students could find their way to Harrisburg on a Friday, Joe Baker would add them into the seminars he gave to the other class of interns during the summer.  It was an enriched cultural resources management education.

The PennDOT ESTI program ostensibly exists as a recruiting tool for future PennDOT engineers.  We in the cultural resources unit would routinely laugh when talking about that aspect of the intern program, but perhaps the laugh was on us. Since cultural resources started working with the intern program, we have hired 3 cultural resources professionals that were former interns, including one who was the PHAST field director. In addition, a number of IUP graduates of the MA program who had worked for us as interns through PHAST are now working for our consultants and sometimes working directly for our office.  So in the end the intern program seems to be doing what it was intended to do.  And to vindicate Joe Baker’s arguments for setting up an internal field program, the Federal Highway Administration saw fit to award the PHAST program an Environmental Excellence Award in 2017.  This prestigious national award is given out every other year to about 12 projects or initiatives. In the history of the program, spanning 20 years, PennDOT has won 5 times, this being the latest.

2010 also brought PennDOT two major changes to its program.  First, the Minor Projects Programmatic Agreement that was signed in 1996 was supplanted by a revised and expanded Programmatic Agreement, which further delegated responsibilities to PennDOT CRPs and District Designees.  Secondly, PennDOT in partnership with Preservation Pennsylvania launched Project PATH, which became our online site for Section 106 consultation. I mention Project PATH because IUP played a key role in its implementation.  A premise of Project PATH was that all supporting documents would be publicly available in close to real time.  This meant the web platform was simpler and transparent.  However, it also meant that archaeological reports couldn’t be housed there.  Archaeological reports often have sensitive information and this information, primarily site locations, is specifically exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. We still needed to be able to share these reports with the SHPO and certain consulting parties and Federally recognized Tribes, and relying on a paper environment betrayed the non-print philosophy behind the Project PATH site.

IUP came to the rescue (again).  The offered up an FTP server for our use, on which we housed our sensitive archaeological reports in a secure password-protected manner. We registered and provided access and passwords to those consulting parties that needed the information.  In that way, we essentially kept two platforms going simultaneously, one fully public, and one (sensitive) that was fully private.  Section 106 work in mysterious ways, and IUP’s assistance was invaluable in getting the full solutions to electronic Section 106 launched.  IUP provided that service until 2017 when PennDOT developed and promoted a Microsoft Sharepoint environment.  At that time, IUP students helped us migrate all of the reports over those 7 years onto that new platform.

Next: Steady, Podner, Steady: The Fourth and Fifth IUP Contracts (2012-)

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