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Intensive Archeological Survey: State Highway 159 at East Mill Creek, Austin County, Texas
Texas Historical Commission
On behalf of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA) conducted an intensive cultural resources survey on December 1, 2017, of 13.27 acres (5.37 hectares) of existing right-of-way (ROW) along State Highway (SH) 159 at the East Mill Creek bridge proposed for replacement located west of Bellville in Austin County, Texas. As the project will receive funding from the Federal Highways Administration, it qualifies as an undertaking as defined in Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 800.16(y); therefore, the archeological survey was conducted in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (54 U.S. Code 306108). Furthermore, the project must also comply with the Antiquities Code of Texas (9 Natural Resources Code 191). Allen Bettis served as Principal Investigator under Texas Antiquities Permit No. 8204.
The APE is defined as the existing SH 159 TxDOT ROW between 110 to 170 feet (33.5 to 51.8 meters [m]) wide beginning approximately 522.10 feet (159.14 m) west of the current bridge at East Mill Creek and extending 3,400.00 feet (1,036.32 m) due east. Depth of construction impacts are typically 2 feet (0.61 m), with a maximum of 54 feet (16.46 m). The APE consists of approximately 13.27 acres (5.37 hectares).
Background research identified no previous cultural resources investigations, archeological sites, cemeteries, National Register of Historic Places districts or properties, or historical markers within 0.6 mile (1 kilometer [km]) of the proposed project APE. No potentially historic structures were identified during the historic map review within the APE, with the possible exception of one along the eastern margin of the project area.
The existing ROW has been modified by the construction of Farm-to-Market Road 159 and the current concrete span bridge; existing overhead and buried utilities; and intersecting roadways, ditches, and driveways. At the time of field investigations, active TxDOT construction activities were underway along the entire northern existing ROW. The East Mill Creek floodplain is frequently flooded and large areas were inundated during the investigations, precluding backhoe trenching.
The field investigation consisted of a pedestrian survey of the entire APE augmented with three shovel tests along adjacent terraces and four backhoe trenches within the floodplain of East Mill Creek. The pedestrian survey along with shovel tests and backhoe trenches identified no cultural materials or features within the project APE. The cumulative impacts from the roadway and existing utilities as well as frequent inundation indicate a negligible potential for intact archeological resources within the APE.
SWCA made a reasonable and good faith effort as per 36 CFR Part 800.4(b)(1) to identify and locate prehistoric and historic archeological properties within the proposed project APE. The field investigation discovered no cultural resources; therefore, SWCA recommends that a finding of “no historic properties affected” be made for the current undertaking.
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