Recovery efforts continue in the NortheastUnited States following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy last month. We checked in with Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, the Senior Program Director of Preservation New Jersey (PNJ), to learn more about the scope of damage to NJ’s cultural resources and how preservationists are coming together to repair, recover, and prepare for the future.
PLF: We know that in many parts of NJ power still hasn’t been restored, but are you able to give us a general update on the status of historic resources in New Jersey?
Cherry-Farmer: Damage to New Jersey's historic resources from Sandy is still proving difficult to catalogue. Many parts of the worst-hit regions of the shore have just reopened to traffic, thanks in part to damaged to roadway infrastructure (washed-out bridges, etc.). As with any storm, in general, damage is extremely haphazard. Communities such as Asbury Park largely escaped damage, while some three miles south, the community of Belmar sustained significantly more storm surge, boardwalk damage, etc. From the information we have now, the central shore, particularly the communities located at inlets, sustained the worst damage. Historic shore communities like Point Pleasant, Bay Head, and Sea Bright have been altered forever. In Brick Township, the National Register listed Camp Osborn Historic District has been literally wiped off the map. The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office (NJSHPO) has been using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) imagery to get a "first pass" at the visual impact along the shore, and the images are useful, but the devastation evident even from those is often shocking.
PNJ will soon be using volunteers to assist with basic "first pass" analysis such as this. NJSHPO has also set up a damage reporting tool on their website to help with cataloguing damage. Among the many historic sites impacted are the Keyport Historical Society, the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey at Sea Girt, and Seaport Bayman's Heritage Museum in Tuckerton. The one-of-a-kind historic boathouse at U.S. Lifesaving station #5 in Long Branch, listed as one of PNJ's most endangered historic places in NJ in 2006, was flattened by the storm.
Further north, outside New York City, the South side of Ellis Island was inundated with several feet of water. Newly-established office space was ruined and a lot of the stabilization work that had been completed to the buildings on the south side was compromised. In Jersey City, the state-owned historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal in Liberty State Park lost windows and doors and electrical systems to flooding. Hoboken, which has substantial historic resources, sustained flooding,
Finally, we've heard from many places where collections have been severely impacted including already-mentioned Ellis Island and the Central Rail Road of NJ Terminal and the Tuckerton Seaport Museum, and the Bergen County Historical Society further north.
PLF: What is Preservation New Jersey doing to help? You mentioned working with the SHPO to identify funding/grants/technical assistance. Do you have any additional information in that regard?
Cherry-Farmer: In addition to our online resource guide, PNJ is working with countless advocates and organizations statewide to ensure that local communities have the best and most useful information especially in regards to working with FEMA and with historic materials repair techniques. We're working with the National Trust and NJSHPO to reach out to FEMA assessors on the ground sharing these same kinds of information. We've partnered with Old House Magazine on a soon-to-be-published article advising owners of historic properties of things they need to know before beginning rehabilitation.
With regard to the funding and incentives work mentioned previously, we have been working with Preservation Action, NTHP, and NCSHPO to propose a federal incentives package. We're also working with FEMA and NJ's Office of Emergency Management on options for ensuring significantly-impacted communities are re-surveyed for historic properties quickly (as is so common, a lot of the survey data in many of these places appears to be more than a decade old). Finally, we're working with our NJ legislators to explore opportunities for assistance via state-level incentives, although at this point, their focus necessarily remains on basic necessities (temporary housing, infrastructure, utilities).
PLF: How can other preservation organizations help?
Cherry-Farmer: NJ non-profits, historic property owners, and individuals can report damage to historic places using the NJSHPO's web tool discussed above. Property owners and stewards also need to file a claim for any damage with FEMA, regardless of how likely they are to be approved. Since Community Development Block Grant Emergency Recovery funding to NJ will be based on the total number of claims the more claims sent in (regardless of whether or not they are approved) It may mean more recovery money awarded to the state as a whole. Non-profits and individuals can also ensure that they are communicating with their area historic sites, fellow advocates, and municipal leadership. As locals on the ground in their communities, they are the best "first line of defense" for their community landmarks. They can rally local awareness, cultivating the concerted voice for preservation that will be needed as recovery continues. Finally, they should be sure to keep in touch with PNJ and other county-and state-level entities as we move forward.
Also check out the following posts on the Preservation Nation.org blog: