In Charleston, S.C., Saving Historic Homes Means Hoisting Them in the Air
In response, the federal government has pushed local officials to do more to protect their residents before a disaster happens, for example by elevating buildings and building sea walls or other flood-control infrastructure. In May, the Biden administration announced that it would double the amount of money awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding local resilience projects.
Charleston is one of a number of coastal cities where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to build a massive sea wall to protect against storm surge. But the $1.4 billion proposal is generating new ripples of concern about its potential effect on views of the water and the character of its most iconic neighborhoods.
Such aesthetic concerns reflect the broader threat that rising seas pose to the nation’s cultural heritage. One 2017 study found that in the Southeastern and Gulf States alone, more than 14,000 significant cultural resources, including historic buildings and archaeological sites, will be threatened with destruction if, as forecast, sea levels rise roughly one meter — about 3.3 feet — over the next century.
The Charleston sea wall could be years away. In the meantime, the city planning department said that as of the end of December, 18 historic homes had been elevated, 14 were in the process of being lifted, and 14 more had been approved for elevation but required further permitting. Mayor John Tecklenburg believes that hundreds more will likely need to be raised in anticipation of a predicted sea-level rise of two to six feet in the next 50 years.