Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility has been awarded a five-year, $10 million contract to provide statewide cultural resource management services for the state Department of Transportation. The contract is the largest in the facility’s history and was awarded through the State Education Department’s State Museum.
A highly competitive bid process attracted 10 rivals for the award, which is the fourth consecutive state contract to be won by the University over the past 10 years.
The new contract calls for the PAF to help meet state and federal historic preservation mandates as they relate to highway construction and bridge repair projects throughout much of the state. The State Museum is the only institution holding a primary contract with the state for cultural resource management work, said Nina Versaggi, director of the Public Archaeology Facility. The latest award means that Binghamton University will extend by five years its nine-year claim on the only cultural resource management contract to be awarded through the State Museum.
“We have a long history of working with the state,” Versaggi said. “But this is the largest and longest single contract we have had with them, and the competition this year was the toughest yet.”
The PAF employs between 25 and 60 archaeologists depending on the season. All who work on state projects must be credentialed, and the vast majority of PAF positions are grant or contract funded. Less than half of the facility’s employees are students, but many, like Versaggi, are Binghamton alumni.
In keeping with its state contract, the PAF covers highway-related cultural resource management projects from Binghamton west to Steuben County, north to Oswego and Jefferson counties, and east to Sullivan and Dutchess counties. The University subcontracts with SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Stony Brook and the Rochester Museum to provide similar services elsewhere in the state.
Cultural resource surveys essentially involve three phases, Versaggi said.
“The first question is ‘Is there a site here?” she said. “ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the next question is, ‘Is that site significant?’The final phase is mitigation of adverse impacts to significant sites.”
Only sites that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places qualify for protection under state and federal regulations. That means a site has to have “a unique set of data that will illuminate our pre-history or history,” Versaggi said. Archaeologists conducting such surveys must look above ground at architectural edifices as well as below ground for artifacts, she said.
In the case of significant below-ground sites, regulations call only for time to be allowed for data retrieval, Versaggi said. No statutes would stop planned highway construction.
Versaggi said the PAF is involved in a range of cross-disciplinary research, including geomorphology, archaeobotany, Neutron Activation Analysis, and lithic microwear analysis. These research initiatives have diversified PAF’s research program and have made major contributions to national debates in archaeology. Because of them PAF researchers are frequently invited to present research at national and state conferences.
Over the past nine years, the PAF had secured a series of three-year contracts with the state, with the amount increasing from $800,000 for three years in the first award to $6 million for three-years in the last. Established in the 1970s, the facility also wins a large number of smaller contracts with state and federal agencies, municipalities, developers, and engineers each year. Last year alone, the facility submitted 142 proposals and secured 75 percent of those for a total of $2,718,665. These projects were related to such things as airport expansions, industrial park development, school expansions, cell towers, and water and sewer system upgrades.
“The engineers and architects are familiar with our work,” Versaggi said. “Our reputation brings in these secondary contracts.”
The PAF is one of 19 organized research centers at Binghamton University.