Protecting archaeological sites in local government infrastructure projects

Water, wastewater and other infrastructure construction has the potential to disturb protected archaeological sites. Identifying projects that may overlap with archaeological sites and preparing an approach for managing-development related impacts helps local governments to both avoid impacting sites and lower infrastructure development costs.

Last updated: January 22, 2021

On this page:


Identifying projects that overlap with protected archaeological sites

Archaeological sites are automatically protected if they meet the heritage protection criteria found in the Heritage Conservation Act. These sites are protected even if their location is not known. 

Project planners must determine if their project overlaps with a known site (for a example, a site that is recorded in the provincial archaeological site inventory) by making a data request or checking the archaeological inventory online.

Determining if a project is in an area likely to contain unknown, but protected, archaeological sites is more difficult. In some areas of the B.C., planning studies have been completed that show areas likely to contain sites. 

The resulting mapping, called archaeological potential mapping, can be viewed through Remote Access to Archaeological Data (RAAD). In many cases, however, archaeological potential mapping has not been completed and it will be necessary to get the opinion of a professional consulting archaeologist on the likelihood of encountering an archaeological site within the project right of way.

Archaeological resource management process

If it is established that a planned project overlaps protected known archaeological sites or will be in an area with potential to contain unrecorded protected sites, you will be required to complete an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) and may need to undertake an impact mitigation requirement study or monitor for archaeology during construction.

There may be as many as three required archaeological field studies associated with an infrastructure improvement project:​

Archaeological impact assessments

Local governments can develop an archaeological impact management plan under a Heritage Inspection Permit.

The purpose of an archaeological impact assessment is to identify the protected sites within the subject area, determine the site’s heritage value, estimate the magnitude of development related impact to the site, and develop options to manage these impacts. Management options may include:

  • Changing project alignments or footprint to reduce or avoid archaeological site impacts
  • Changing construction techniques to reduce the degree of site impact
  • Completing additional archaeological excavations to retrieve information that will be destroyed by development
  • No further action when the values associated with the site are insignificant

Impact mitigation requirements

Local governments can conduct an archaeological scientific investigation under a Heritage Investigation Permit.

If the site is determined to have significant heritage value and development related impacts are large and unavoidable, further archaeological study will be necessary. Prior to land altering activity local governments will be required to complete systematic data recovery to record information before it is lost during construction. 

Archaeological monitoring during construction

Local governments can develop on an archaeological site with a Site Alteration Permit.

After the appropriate archaeological studies have been completed, the project manager must obtain a Site Alteration Permit to alter the archaeological site. Large impacts to sites or projects disturbing sites likely to contain human remains will require monitoring to salvage and record unique or scientifically valuable material and to ensure human remains are handled in a respectful manner.

The required site alteration permit application is available through the Archaeology Branch website; however, most proponents have the application prepared by the archaeologist on their behalf.

Estimating archaeological study costs for local government infrastructure funding applications

Since the cost for many local government infrastructure projects is partially defrayed through trusts or other funding mechanisms, it's vital to have an accurate estimate of required archaeological study costs as part of a well-prepared funding application. 

When applying for infrastructure funding, and if including estimates in the funding application, local governments should account for the costs of all 3 archaeological studies. A professional consulting archaeologist can assist in preparing these cost estimates.

An Archaeological Overview Assessment (AOA) can be used to make a more precise estimate of scope and cost prior to a funding application, especially if the development impact zone is quite large, local governments may wish to engage a professional consulting archaeologist to complete one. This low-cost study is a useful preliminary review that compiles the known archaeological information concerning the development area in order to:

  • identify the known sites 
  • areas likely to contain sites
  • develop a strategy for the higher-cost field studies. 

Contact the archaeology branch to advise on the types and scope of archaeological studies required for a specific project. Archaeological branch staff have expert knowledge in B.C. archaeology and archaeological resource management and can assist local governments apply for infrastructure funding.