National Trust Statement on Hurricane Damage
Statement from Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The following is a statement from Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Over the past three weeks, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and coastal Texas, and Hurricane Irma has wrought catastrophic damage upon the Southeastern United States, the Florida Keys, and the Caribbean. Now, even as they are grappling with the last storm’s terrible impact, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are threatened once again by yet another encroaching superstorm, Hurricane Maria.
We are stunned and disheartened by the incalculable devastation and loss of life that these hurricanes have left in their wake, and stand ready to offer our assistance in any way possible to help our fellow citizens, friends, and neighbors rebuild. Right now, many families are still just trying to get back to their homes, or get basic amenities like water, power, and communications lines restored. As the time comes, we hope these resources and information can help citizens take stock of the damage to their households and make decisions about how best to proceed.
Moving forward, we plan to work with the National Park Service and longtime partners such as the Florida Trust, the Dade Heritage Trust, the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, Preservation Texas, Preservation Houston, and the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission to assess and triage the damage done to historic properties by these storms. If you have any information you want to share, please do not hesitate to send it to us via social media.
Already, we are hearing reports of damage and flooding to a number of historic hotels, Main Streets, house museums, and significant cultural places. With regard to our National Treasures, initial reports relate that Miami Marine Stadium and the Houston Astrodome have thankfully both been spared major damage, although power was slow to return to Little Havana. In downtown Charleston, South Carolina, another of our National Treasures, storm surge reached its third highest level ever, causing major flooding. We are keeping an eye on Maria’s potential landfall near the Antiguo Acueducto del Río Piedras in San Juan, and we continue to be concerned about the devastating impacts of all of these storms on island and coastal communities across Texas, the Southeast, and the Caribbean.
To help protect historic places that have been damaged, as well as those under threat from future storms, we have formed an internal team at the Trust to manage hurricane response and recovery moving forward. Their efforts will include collecting and synthesizing information from FEMA and our partners about previous storms, creating overlay maps to assess historic places most threatened by potential hurricanes and flooding, and identifying opportunities for volunteers to aid in restoration or preparation.
With that in mind, we have joined with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and other allies to urge the Administration and Congress to include funding for the repair and rehabilitation of significant historic properties that were damaged by the hurricanes. Our specific proposals include a two-year, $150 million grant program within the federal Historic Preservation Fund for the stabilization, repair and reconstruction of historic properties.
We also recommend that disaster relief include a three-year increase of the historic tax credit from 20 percent to 26 percent, and provisions allowing for additional allocations of the new markets and low-income housing tax credits, both of which can be combined with the federal historic tax credit to rehabilitate damaged historic properties in the disaster area.
As we work to rebuild, we should also heed what science is telling us. The increasing intensity and frequency of superstorms like Irma, Harvey, and Maria are a predicted consequence of accelerating climate change. Now is the time to prepare for future storms, by crafting hazard adaptation and mitigation plans for historic resources and working to reduce carbon emissions at scale through adaptive building reuse.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by these terrible storms, from Florida to Puerto Rico and Texas to the Caribbean. We stand ready to help however we can.