Don’t falter on Fort Sumter

Retired National Parks Service Mason Dominic DeRubis works on the brick work at Fort Sumter on June 22. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

Fort Sumter isn’t just a national historic site, it’s a national historic treasure. So why isn’t it being treated like one?

In an article Monday, Post and Courier reporter Bo Petersen cited the numerous existing structural problems with the fort, and the pending hazards it faces as the State Ports Authority moves ahead with the deepening of the channel serving Charleston Harbor.

The fort’s problems are in sharp to contrast to its popularity with the throngs of tourists who come to Charleston to see the place where the Civil War started.

The hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the site each year contribute to its upkeep, but not enough to take care of all the wear and tear on the fort. The National Park Service clearly recognizes the many structural problems facing the fort, but can barely keep up with the crumbling brickwork and deteriorating walkways.

Similar problems are being experienced by other national park sites across the U.S. because of a long-term lack of adequate funding. But Fort Sumter can’t sustain ongoing budgetary shortfalls as easily as most other sites.

It constantly endures the effects of waves, boat wakes and water seepage. Consequently, its maintenance problems have to be met, or the damage will only get worse.

As a national historic site, the fort is mainly the responsibility of the federal government. And federal lawmakers are failing Fort Sumter. The backlog of needed maintenance and repair work is $10 million for Fort Sumter and the associated sites of Fort Moultrie and the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

First District Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., acknowledges the need for more funding, but in his view there are complications. “What folks in government don’t do very well is differentiate investment from consumption,” Rep. Sanford said. “We have to be careful not to give away the farm. Everyone has to take part — concessionaires, users. It can’t just be the taxpayer.”

If there needs to be a balance of contributions among those various groups, then the congressman and his colleagues should work on an arrangement that will provide the necessary funding from each and then implement it. The situation at Fort Sumter shows a long-standing shortfall both in cash and congressional responsibility.

Credit Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., for attempting to gain more funding for Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie by combining them to create a new national park.

Meanwhile, Mr. Petersen points out the pending need for a $3 million breakwater to protect the fort from the wakes of larger ships that will be coming into the harbor after the channel is deepened to 52 feet.

Congress, the SPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Park Service should be working on a plan to put that structure in place before the deepening gets under way.

Beyond its historic value, Fort Sumter has a symbolic importance equal to any site in the nation. National leaders recognized that when they raised Old Glory there after the end of hostilities between the North and the South. It is a must-see attraction for visitors to Charleston.

Its current deterioration says it should be a must-fund site for the federal government. Gaining the necessary resources to ensure that repairs can be made before further damage is sustained would be a sound investment.

No reasonable taxpayer would consider such an essential allocation as “giving away the farm.”