ANDOVER, Mass. -- After a disaster strikes, local officials face numerous challenges in coordinating recovery efforts. In addition to the helping their citizens with basic needs, communities must comply with federal, state and local laws that regulate environmental and historic preservation when undertaking rebuilding efforts. Understanding these laws and building structures that comply with these regulations can be overwhelming, but state and local officials don’t have to go it alone. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a team of environmental and historical preservation specialists available to provide consultation and assist in the rebuilding process.
FEMA designates project officers to work with local officials during the recovery process. FEMA project officers sit down with community leaders one-on-one to discuss which types of emergency expenses and projects are federally reimbursable and walk through the process of rebuilding structures to resist damage in the future. During these discussions, FEMA environmental and historic preservation officers also assist in identifying potential environmental and historical issues and conduct agency consultations related to threatened and endangered species, essential fish habitats and historic properties. All projects are subject to review by the environmental and historic preservation officers as appropriate.
Once potential issues are identified, FEMA project officers help local officials obtain necessary permits and offer guidance on how to build structures that are environmentally and historically friendly. For example, work in streams, wetlands, or the repair or replacement of historic properties are of particular concern to communities in Massachusetts, due to the prevalence of waterways and older structures.
In addressing possible environmental issues, FEMA works with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to identify state laws and regulations. Many regulations that protect the environment are federally mandated, but air quality, debris disposal and hazardous materials are among the issues regulated by the state.
Several programs protect wildlife habitat and fisheries. Under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, FEMA is required to ensure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out is not likely to threaten any endangered species. In Massachusetts, this means animals like the bald eagle, the shortnose sturgeon, and the dwarf wedge mussel cannot be harmed when rebuilding any type of structures. Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be required if post-disaster projects involve repair or construction of dams, levees, stream relocation or any activity that modifies a body of water.
Protection of wetlands is another important environmental consideration. For example, debris cannot be stored in a wetland, even temporarily, without a permit. For work conducted in a wetland, such as demolition, repair or construction; coordination and permitting with the Army Corps of Engineers is required. FEMA project officers provide information, guidelines and contact information for any community affected by these environmental regulations.
Humans have lived in what is now Massachusetts for at least 11,000 years, making the area rife with archeological sites and historic structures. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires FEMA to identify all historic properties that might be affected by a FEMA-funded project. As rebuilding and reconstruction continues for the May flooding disaster, FEMA officials work closely with the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Office to ensure all appropriate screening and permitting takes place. The goal of these regulations is to preserve such sites as an important link to Mass...