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Agency

Texas Historical Commission

Abstract

URS Corporation (URS) was retained by Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC (Oncor) to conduct an intensive cultural resources survey of the new Permian Basin - Culberson 138 kilovolt (kV) Double-Circuit Transmission Line Project (Project) right-of-way (ROW) located in Culberson, Reeves, and Ward Counties, Texas. The proposed 70-foot (ft) (21-meter [m]) wide Project ROW encompasses approximately 825 acres and traverses a total of approximately 97 miles of rural lands between the existing Oncor Permian Basin Switching Station, located approximately four miles west of Monahans, Texas in Ward County, to the existing Oncor Culberson Switching Station, located approximately 17 miles south of the Texas/New Mexico state line in Culberson County. This includes 88.7 miles of the original route, along with 8.3 miles of additional segments that were evaluated.

Currently, the Project is not subject to federal funding or permitting; therefore, no review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, is required. Should the Project subsequently become subject to federal funding or permitting, the cultural resources investigations and site evaluations reported herein will be updated and coordinated with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) as part of fulfilling any Section 106 requirements that may arise at a later date. While the majority of the Project is located on private land, an approximately 6-mile long segment of the Project ROW traverses lands owned by University Lands (UL), which is a political subdivision of the State of Texas. Consequently, this portion of the project falls within the purview of the Antiquities Code of Texas, which requires the THC to review actions that have the potential to disturb prehistoric or historic sites in the public domain. In order to comply with the Antiquities Code, Antiquities Permit No. 7848 was obtained from the THC for the UL-owned lands, and the survey methods for this portion of the Project followed the THC’s archaeological survey standards for Texas. For the remaining areas of the Project, all cultural resources investigations were carried out in conformance with the methodologies outlined in the THC-approved Generic Research Design for Archaeological Surveys of Oncor Electric Delivery Electric Transmission Line Projects in Texas (PBS&J 2008).

The cultural resources survey was conducted between December 7, 2015 and May 5, 2016, and consisted of an intensive 100 percent pedestrian survey and shovel testing within the Project ROW. The survey resulted in the identification of 16 newly-recorded sites and one previously recorded site (41WR85). Site forms were completed for each of the 16 newly identified archaeological sites, and trinomials were obtained from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. In addition, 16 isolated finds (IFs) were identified; however no site forms were prepared for IFs. All sites within the Project ROW were located in areas of eroded and/or mixed soils, lacked diagnostic artifacts, and were found to exhibit poor integrity context due to prior disturbances. Based on these observations, the portions of these sites within the Project ROW do not meet National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and State Antiquities Landmark (SAL) eligibility requirements. However, because each of these sites appears to extend beyond the current Project ROW boundary, they have not been evaluated in their entirety and their overall NRHP and SAL eligibility is recommended to be Undetermined. Due to a lack of research potential and integrity, all IFs are recommended as not eligible for NRHP or SAL designation.

During the survey, a small bedrock cavity was observed at site 41CU835. Due to safety concerns about the surrounding ground stability, this feature could not be fully investigated. The ground immediate adjacent to the cavity, as well as the upper two feet of the cavity, did not present any indications that it was culturally related, or that the cavity extended much deeper. The entirety of the observed cavity appeared to be too narrow to have served as an effective place of interment. However, based on survey level data, the cultural utilization of this feature could not be entirely ruled out. It was recommended that construction activities avoid this cavity and that site monitoring during construction be conducted, until such time as any cultural association is definitively ruled out, or until it can be confirmed that no construction impacts to the cavity would take place.

A geomorphological assessment revealed that selected areas within the Project ROW potentially exhibit the necessary pedologic and geomorphic conditions for the deep burial and preservation of cultural deposits. These areas represent a combined total of 15.5 linear miles (25 kilometers) of Project ROW. In accordance with the Generic Research Design, monitoring was recommended for any transmission pole excavations in the areas that were assessed as exhibiting high geoarchaeological potential.

An interim draft report of the foregoing recommendations was submitted to the THC on April 27, 2017. On May 26, 2017, the THC concurred with all interim report recommendations. During preparations for the monitoring effort, URS was notified by Oncor that a majority of the Project had already been constructed, including those areas recommended for monitoring. The only location that had not yet been constructed was the bedrock cavity at site 41CU835. On May 24, 2017, a meeting between Oncor, URS, and the THC resulted in an agreement that monitoring should be undertaken during construction activities near the bedrock cavity at site 41CU835. In addition, it was agreed that spot-checks would be performed within a subset of the previously constructed structures within high geoarchaeological probability areas, including portions of the Project owned by UL. Following completion of these tasks, it was agreed that a comprehensive revised draft report of investigations and findings (current report) would be submitted to the THC for review and project closure.

Subsequent investigations at the bedrock cavity at 41CU835 were carried out from July 10-11, 2017. During the site visit, it was established that the cavity is located approximately 30 m to the southeast of the proposed location of monopole structure No. 56/3. Following additional inspections, it was possible to rule out any prehistoric use of this natural feature. The immediate area around the cavity was taped off for safety reasons so that other related construction activities would not adversely impact the cavity or surrounding area. On July 11, 2017, monitoring was carried out for the excavation of monopole structure no. 56/3. Soil stratigraphy was recorded for the total depth of the excavation, which was 20 ft. No cultural materials were identified

From August 12-13, 2017, URS archaeologists performed spot-checks for 99 monopoles, including 53 structures within the Project ROW extending approximately 10 kilometers (km) west of the Pecos River in Reeves County; 22 structures within the Project ROW extending approximately 4 km east of the Pecos River in Ward County; and 24 structures within the Project ROW extending approximately 4.5 km across Monument Draw within UL in Ward County. Spot-checking included visual inspection and photo documentation of disturbances, as well as ground surface inspection to identify cultural resources.

The Project ROW around each monopole exhibited construction related disturbances from equipment access roads and from drilling operations. No evidence was found that indicated any deeply buried cultural resource sites were impacted from auguring. Within the intervening areas between monopoles, however, a total of two previously unrecorded, low-density historic surface scatters (41RV128 and 41RV129) and three new IFs (H-07, H08, and P-28) were identified and recorded. Both sites were found to exhibit poor integrity due to prior disturbances, and low research potential due to minimal information potential. The portions of these sites within the Project ROW were not found to meet NRHP and SAL eligibility requirements. However, because each of these sites appears to extend beyond of the current Project ROW boundary, they have not been evaluated in their entirety and their overall NRHP and SAL eligibility is recommended to be Undetermined. The three new IFs are recommended as not eligible for NRHP or SAL designation.

Based on the final results of the survey, monitoring, and spot-checking investigations, no cultural resources sites eligible for listing in the NRHP or that merit SAL designation within the Project ROW will be affected by the Project, and it is recommended that the project be allowed to proceed. Should the dimensions of the Project ROW change, additional archaeological investigations may be warranted.

Should any unmarked prehistoric or historic human remains or burials be encountered at any point during the project, the area of the remains is considered a cemetery under current Texas law. All cemeteries are protected under State law and cannot be disturbed. Section 28.03(f) of the Texas Penal Code provides that intentional damage or destruction inflicted on a human burial site is a state jail felony. If a cemetery is identified in the Project ROW, all work in the immediate area of the discovery must cease and the THC must be notified by contacting the History Programs Division at (512) 463-5853 and the Archeology Division at (512) 463-6096. Following consultation with the THC, a treatment or avoidance plan would be developed and implemented.

No artifacts were collected during the survey. Pursuant to 13 TAC 26.17, correspondence, field records, and photographs generated during field investigations have been prepared for permanent curation at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, Austin, Texas.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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