Olympia, WA -- Since 1966, nearly 73,000 structures, sites and districts throughout the country have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. People like historic buildings to live in, work in and visit. But keeping them in their original condition, especially after a natural disaster, is a monumental task.
When the Nisqually Earthquake hit the Puget Sound Area, hundreds of historic structures were affected. Many of these buildings might lose their cultural and historic integrity if there were not federal historic preservation laws in place to protect them.
Pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, projects involving federal funds are required to go through a historic preservation review process. A historic building is normally defined as any structure 50 years or older, either listed in the National Register, or of other recognized historic significance.
Applicants who sidestep this review process may jeopardize their federal funding. "In a previous disaster, so many earthquake damaged private structures were demolished that an entire historic district was removed from the National Register. Many of these buildings could have been restored and the Historic District saved. This is the type of problem we are trying to avoid when providing federal disaster assistance," Mark Eberlein, Regional Environmental officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said.
If an earthquake-damaged public structure is determined historic, FEMA will consult with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which is the authority on historic buildings throughout the state. After a structure is identified and evaluated, recommendations are made to preserve the historic building and repair it to its previous condition.
If the applicant elects not to restore a historic building to its previous condition, then steps to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to its historic fabric are considered and presented to the applicant. When a historic structure cannot be saved, a detailed record of the building, including photographs, is normally attempted in order to document the building's historic significance.
"The historical review assures the local community that the federal government is indeed dedicated to preserving our national heritage," said Eberlein.