Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hurricane floodwaters damage Batsto

I have just read Tom Hester's "Historic Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest seriously damaged by hurricane floodwater," posted September 4, 2011, on New Jersey Newsroom.

Having dealt with flooding from supernormal tides at Historic New Bridge Landing for several decades, I am not surprised to read that "high water initially kept DEP workers from reaching buildings [at Batsto] closest to the river and that some artifacts, such as furniture, may have been damaged. [The DEP spokesperson] said artifacts have been moved to dry storage elsewhere within Wharton State Forest where the village is located." Does it sound like he is saying museum objects were moved after the fact? Shouldn't it be obvious by now that by the time water is rising during a storm, it is too late---meaning, too dangerous---to send in workers to rescue anything. Didn't they learn that lesson from the April 2007 flood that inundated the Zabriskie-Steuben House? Dare I say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Most people can read between the lines when a spokesperson makes a statement like: "Some things did get wet, but that might not mean they have been damaged. We are taking inventory.” One thing we know by now: bureaucratic cement is pretty much flood-proof, resisting blame or accountability. What is my forecast? It will happen again and again.

Most disappointing is the statement, "He added, 'Most of the old buildings have some water issues.'" Oh, really? Are they blaming the historic resources, rather than those paid to protect them? Aren't there any "volunteers" to blame this time around? And is this spokesperson really suggesting that old hamlets associated with water-powered iron furnaces, gristmills, sawmills, as well as river landings and canals, have "water issues"? Facing down a storm of historic proportions, didn't anyone anticipate a problem here? And what about those emergency plans that were the order of the day back in April 2007??? The best they can do is close the village and keep their latest mistake from public scrutiny.

How much more are we willing to lose before things change? This is not a disaster waiting to happen ... it is "history repeating itself." In bold contrast to the Governor's forceful leadership during this crisis, the DEP "stewards" of historic resources consistently hang us out to dry. Dear God! If they can't appreciate our historic heritage for its intrinsic cultural value, can't they at least appreciate what it could do for the local economy if we ever realized the potential for heritage tourism?

Once again, I strongly urge the historical community to get state owned and operated Historic Sites under professional management of an independent State Historic Sites Commission. I hate to say it, but almost anything would be better than this.

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