When the city of New Orleans began its demolition program early in 2006, the National Trust was among the interested parties who came to the table to help draft the procedures which would ensure that historic properties were adequately reviewed by FEMA and protected if possible. Sixteen months later, I was at the table again, this time to talk about how things have gone so far and what needs to be revised. The revisions are prompted because as of September 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is no longer the demolition contractor. These responsibilities will now fall to the City of New Orleans.
FEMA’s Historic Preservation staff reported that of the 9,000 properties proposed for demolition by the city using FEMA funds, 780 (nine percent) were determined to be National Register eligible. The good news is that one-third of these National Register eligible properties were removed from the demolition list as a result of the process we helped lay out to force the consideration of alternatives to demolition. Nevertheless, this still leaves 522 historic properties on the demolition list. About 100 of these have been selectively salvaged to date—again a provision of the agreement. The city is not ready to take on the demolition process, so any progress we have made so far could be stalled.
Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.