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Meet Tama Tochihara, historian and protector of cultural resources
3/22/2021 12:00 AM
Denver, Colorado, born and raised
: Three wonderful girls, Moya, Keiko and Emi, almost all taller than me, and the eldest is a freshman at Cornell; my lovely husband Gabriel; and the cutest dog in the world, Odin.
When people ask me what I do for work I tell them…
I’ve worked in historic preservation and cultural resources for over 20 years. As a historian for the Bonneville Power Administration, I am responsible for ensuring compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act for Transmission Services’ structures and buildings, and Environment, Fish and Wildlife projects for BPA’s entire service territory. I work with BPA architects, engineers and project managers to provide guidance for preserving or restoring BPA’s historic buildings.
My role also includes managing agreements to resolve the adverse effects of demolishing or altering a historic resource that is eligible for listing in the National Register and streamline our consultations with state and tribal historic preservation offices, state agencies, local historical societies and museums. This involves everything from interpretive signs and museum exhibits to grants. I helped get Covington Substation listed in the National Register of Historic Places – BPA’s first historic listing.
Tama and Matt Armstrong, BPA historian in Portland, pose in front of a custom light fixture in the new Fleet Services Building at Ross Complex in Vancouver, WA. They worked with external designers, the BPA
Engineering and Technical Services team
and the Plant Services Building shop at Ross to incorporate historic insulators into the huge and heavy fixture.
I like working at BPA because:
I love my job and working at BPA because of my colleagues both inside and outside my department. We have phenomenal people in Cultural Resources and the Environmental Planning and Analysis department. My work also allows me to connect with people all across the agency, from the Library and Facilities to Realty, Transmission Structural and Civil Engineering, and many, many more. And as president of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group and Special Emphasis Program Manager, I connect with other people who value culture and teamwork. Working with all of these friends at BPA makes my job truly rewarding.
How does your work group or office support BPA’s mission and strategy?
Our work delivers on BPA’s strategic objective to improve cost-management discipline. We save time and money for every built project (new construction, demolition, maintenance, repairs, or additions) by streamlining the regulatory process, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. We help modernize assets and system operations by lending insight on how historic assets can be managed to better prioritize maintenance and future capital investments.
My most memorable work-related story or safety lesson is:
My most substantial accomplishment was managing a project with Facilities, Planning and Projects. This was a regional, multi-year intensive survey of BPA’s historic substations and more than 1,000 BPA-owned and managed assets. This project produced the Manual for Built Resources for guidance on repair and maintenance of historic facilities and the BPA Field Guide of historic buildings.
The coolest or most surprising thing about my job is:
My favorite part of my job is recovering and storing artifacts and historic items discovered during asset replacement, disposal or demolition. We feature these items in exhibits and displays and reuse them as design elements in new construction. I visit substations where operators take such care in maintaining their historic buildings or have historic items on display, like at Alvey Substation in Eugene, Oregon. It is extremely humbling to hold an item someone created or stand in a BPA building that someone built over 70 years ago. The untanking towers at Chehalis, Salem and Midway substations are my absolute favorite BPA buildings – these monumental concrete beauties tell a story of an earlier history of BPA.
My favorite thing about working and living in the Northwest is:
I am so grateful for the natural beauty we are surrounded by!
When I’m not working or sleeping, I like to:
Read historical fiction, explore new hikes, take Odin on trail runs and long walks, and try out new recipes with Gabriel and the girls.
Two things I can’t live without are:
Family and the outdoors.
I am inspired by:
People who work for the greater good and those who have overcome adversity, past and present.
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