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St. Augustine Receives Grants to Survey, Prepare Historic Districts for Natural Disasters

St. Augustine received two grants to survey its historic districts and better prepare for natural disasters.
St. Augustine received two grants to survey its historic districts and better prepare for natural disasters.

St. Augustine is receiving a pair of grants totaling $450,000 to prepare its historic districts for potential disasters like hurricanes and sea level rise.

One $400,000 grant is coming from the 2019 Hurricane Irma National Park Service and through the State Historic Preservation Office, while the other is directly though State Historic Preservation Office.

The city will devote $100,000 to update the Town Plan National Historic Landmark District, more commonly known as the Colonial Downtown area. The area will be surveyed to find which properties were damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Then, they’ll evaluate what they can do to help mitigate future flooding and disaster impacts.

“We’ll be looking to have some experts help us understand what some of those options may be,” said Jenny Wolfe, a Historic Preservation Officer in the city's Planning and Building Department. “Whether they’re temporary barriers that are installed before a flooding event, or whether it’s understanding the drying and plastering techniques that need to be done in the aftermath of a flooding event.”

Some of the money will also be used to update the site’s National Historic Landmark nomination, which hasn’t been done in decades. The nomination allows the historic buildings and objects in the site to be accounted for.

Wolfe explained the significance of an updated nomination will answer lingering questions about the history at various locations. “Who are the people? What are the events, and where are the places that made this nomination special? And then you have to do a list of resources, whether they’re building sites, or objects, and things that contribute to that district.”

Wolfe said some buildings that were constructed around the same time of the last nomination - or a few years later - would now be considered historic.

The remaining $300,000 from the Hurricane Irma National Park Service grant will be used to make similar updates and resiliency plans in other historic districts, such as the Abbott Tract, Model Land Company, and Lincolnville.

In order to receive the $400,000 federal grant, the city needed to show it was more in need of the surveyance and updates than other historical district projects throughout the state.

“Fortunately for St. Augustine, it’s easier for us to make the case of being vulnerable,” Wolfe said. “Number one, because we’ve had the impacts of flooding and hurricanes in the very recent past, but also we have such a unique resource architecture and archaeological heritage that is non-renewable.”

Overall, the city will survey at least 1,300 buildings. Wolfe believes the work is key to preserving districts that are part of the identity of the city.

“We know that historic places and historic buildings not only contributes to our quality of life, but it also contributes to our local economy,” Wolfe said. “So it's very important for us to try to do what we can to preserve them. But we do stand to lose quite a bit if we don't learn how to live with flooding and sea level rise.”

The city will initially pay for the projects, which it will report on a quarterly basis until June of 2021. After submitting the receipts, the state will reimburse the city with the federal funds that it has.

Next, the city will hire the consultants and surveyors necessary to carry out the projects.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.