In the wake of the unprecedented destruction resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the ACHP has been working to help address the impacts to historic properties. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hard hit by the storms. (The impact on the island of St. John was particularly catastrophic.) The ACHP has reached out to the affected State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help coordinate how disaster recovery efforts are addressing historic properties and how review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act will be expedited. The ACHP also has been in discussions with preservation partners regarding potential congressional action on supplemental funding and tax credits to support rehabilitation of storm-ravaged historic properties.
The ACHP is receiving updates from FEMA through the Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review process, Heritage Emergency Task Force meetings, and coordination with FEMA’s Recovery Support Function for Natural and Cultural Resources and Office of Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation. State and local government response has not yet formally progressed to damage assessments pending debris removal and cleanup efforts and the deployment of volunteers and additional staff. Since the process for determining next steps to help federal agencies, states, and local communities is fluid, the ACHP has to be prepared for a dynamic planning process. The ACHP has been helping FEMA get the word out to federal agencies regarding the need for volunteers to deploy for 30 to 45 days, and has also informed non-federal representatives about the opportunity to join FEMA’s cadre of qualified preservationists or environmental specialists.
In Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) are using the FEMA Prototype Programmatic Agreement (PPA) that they executed with the ACHP and FEMA a few years ago. Because of the nature of the emergencies that resulted from the hurricanes, FEMA is requesting the Texas SHPO to adhere to a seven-day review period. For Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the timeframe for expedited reviews of emergency undertakings is three days. FEMA intends to utilize these expedited timeframes for at least 120 days, unless there is a need to extend the duration. The ACHP established the Section 106 e-transmission process in February 2017 to allow agencies to expedite their submissions. This new tool will be useful to SHPOs, FEMA, and other federal agencies involved in post-hurricane activities.
To respond to long-term recovery needs, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in collaboration with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, has developed a legislative proposal that would benefit historic properties in the disaster areas. A proposed two-year preservation grant program would be funded with at least $150 million from the Historic Preservation Fund. The existing rehabilitation tax credit for commercial properties would be increased for three years from 20 percent to 26 percent for historic properties and from 10 percent to 13 percent for buildings built before 1936. The proposal mirrors actions taken by Congress for Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. For both of those disasters, Congress provided supplemental preservation funding, and, for states affected by Hurricane Katrina, increased the rehabilitation tax credit.