Comments sought on Hurricane Sandy grants for historic purposes

On July 29, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs announced three awards for the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Assistance Grants for Historic Properties program, and the agency is seeking public comment on its finding that the selected projects will not adversely affect historic properties.

The grant program is funded under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in response to the effects of the hurricane, which struck the East Coast of the United States in late October 2012.

As part of the act, $50 million was appropriated to the National Park Service to cover the costs of preserving and/or rehabilitating historic properties damaged by the storm. Subsequently, the National Park Service allocated $1 million for Delaware’s component of the program, which is being administered by the Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs. The purpose of the program is to help return damaged historic properties to useful condition, preserving the state’s cultural heritage for future generations.

The division publicly announced the availability of the grants and posted information on the program in January 2014. To qualify, properties were required to be listed, or eligible for listing, in the National Register of Historic Places, and have documented damage that resulted from the effects of the storm. Eligible properties included those owned by private individuals or organizations, local governments or the State.

The division received three applications. A technical-review committee found that all three of the applications qualified for funding according to the selection criteria and application requirements. Because the currently approved applications did not exhaust the full amount of funds awarded to Delaware, the division may elect to hold another round of grant applications, officials said.

Additionally, in accordance with its agreement with the National Park Service, the division plans to apply some of the remaining funds toward improving data on the location and nature of historic properties in areas vulnerable to such storm events, assisting in disaster planning.

The three historic properties that will be assisted by the program are:

Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, situated on the outer breakwater in Lewes harbor, built in 1926 and listed in the National Register in 1989 as a contributing structure within the National Harbor of Refuge and Delaware Breakwater Harbor Historic District, a nationally significant aid-to-navigation and safe harbor.

The non-profit ownership of the lighthouse sought to deal with damage from wind-driven water and waves and received a grant of up to $360,000 for replacement of the dock and stairs leading to lighthouse and assessment of the condition of the lighthouse.

The Milford New Century Club, at 18 N. Church Street in Milford, built in 1885 and individually listed in the National Register in 1982 as part of a multiple-property nomination for the City of Milford. The building is considered significant for its architecture and as a long-standing community center, a purpose it still serves. The non-profit ownership sought help to deal with the results of high wind, wind-driven rain and rising water, with a grant of up to $60,000.

Work will include replacement of the roof and associated interior and exterior repairs; exterior painting and associated repairs; and replacement of the HVAC system; to secure the building’s exterior to prevent further damage and deterioration, and to allow the building to again be used year-round for the organization’s civic projects and rental for local events

The Phillips Potato House, at 7472 Portsville Road in Laurel, built circa 1900 and individually listed in the National Register in 1990 as part of a multiple-property nomination for sweet potato houses, a specialized agricultural outbuilding in Sussex County. The potato houses reflect the modernization of agricultural practices in southern Delaware during the first half of the 20th century, including the emergence of truck farming, officials said.

The private ownership of the property sought to repair the results of high wind, wind-driven rain and water run-off, with a grant of up to $42,000, for removal of damaged asphalt siding and repair of wood siding and trim; window repair; removal of metal roofing and restoration of wood shingles; and foundation repairs. The grant-funded work will secure the building’s exterior to prevent further damage and deterioration, and provide an opportunity for returning the building to agricultural use and/or for an adaptive reuse to include public interpretation of agricultural practices.

In order to receive funding, the grantees must ensure that the repair work is consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and must maintain and preserve the properties for a period of time thereafter. Grantees must also document that consulting and contractual services have been open to competitive bidding and selected in accordance with state and federal law.

Grantees must also comply with a number of other reporting requirements to demonstrate that the project is properly carried out. The commitments are documented in a grant agreement that is signed by the division and the grantee.

The division has received the National Park Service’s approval to award the three grants on the condition that all program requirements are being met including compliance with federal historic preservation and environmental laws. Because the program is federally-funded, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that the projects’ effects on historic properties are taken into account. Section 106 also affords local governments, interested parties and the public the opportunity to comment on the projects.

For more information on the law and the public’s role in the review process, see the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s publication, “Protecting Historic Properties: A Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 Review.”

To fulfill its Section 106 responsibilities, the National Park Service has negotiated a programmatic agreement with the 12 states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The agreement will govern the project-review process for the states’ grant programs, including provisions for public notification and involvement in the program. The agreement also prohibits use of the funds for work that would adversely affect historic properties.

The division has found that the projects will not adversely affect historic properties because the proposed work will be designed to meet the above-referenced federal standards; the grantees must make legally-binding commitments to ensure that the work is properly carried out; and the division and the National Park Service will have continuing oversight of the projects.

To comment on this finding, or to request additional information about the grant program, the Section 106 review process, or the programmatic agreement, contact Gwen Davis, deputy state historic preservation officer, at (302) 736-7410 or Comments must be received by Aug. 29.