As an observer who has watched the effort to save the Cape San Blas Lighthouse play out over the past decade – not the past few months as some would assert – the recent wrangling has an echo of humor.
For much of the past decade the city of Port St. Joe and the Board of County Commissioners paid scant attention to the lighthouse and grounds.
The folks at the St. Joseph Historical Society put the shoulder to the wheel and did all the heavy lifting to restore a keeper’s quarters and the lighthouse and create a tour and gift shop.
That is their hard work; there is little other credit, at least locally, to spread around despite efforts otherwise.
But the effort to save the lighthouse has created just another rub between the city and county and no matter the efforts of citizens to disengage from that concept, the reality is there is little respect lost between the BOCC and city commissioners.
The BOCC has pretty much dictated that, as occured Tuesday when BOCC meeting time was again wasted on axe-grinding having nothing to do with county business, with a racial tinge for effect.
Some clarifications are required, however.
The city is not stealing the lighthouse – the ocean is doing that. If nobody locally lifts a finger the grounds will be under water within a year or two, at most.
The application process for taking possession of the lighthouse may be, like so much of government, deeply flawed, but it is what it is, the process. The process has produced a decision.
It was stated by the BOCC that it would live with that decision. Maybe, maybe not.
There is no clarity on what the potential costs of moving the lighthouse could be and therefore a comparison between county-proposed Salinas Park and city-proposed BayFront Park, a new creation, are moot, despite common sense that Salinas would be cheaper.
Until the process gets down to qualifications and specs on the job, until there is a certified quote and not guess work or an estimate, the exact cost is an unknown.
And, bluntly, neither city nor county can exactly afford to pull off the move on the backs of taxpayers, if pleas of poverty the last few years are to have credibility.
There is also the simple truth that there are compelling arguments on both sides of the equation for where the lighthouse should be relocated with passionate people providing those arguments.
At the most fundamental this is a debate about the economy, about creating a revenue stream and potentially jobs as well as a ripple effect throughout the county.
This is in significant measure about economic development and in this rare instance, when the city has, shall we say, a bit of the upper hand, there is a path for the city to make this work far beyond a lighthouse and museum and park.
The city could decide to back away and alert the U.S. Department of the Interior that it will defer to the county on the lighthouse.
This may very well not be the city’s call; the federal government tends to do what it cares to and that is why no one should be holding their breath on any RESTORE Act money.
But the city could back away with the same stipulation the county put in its letter of appeal to the feds’ decision to award the lighthouse to the city – make it contingent on the county relocating the lighthouse within a certain period of time or the city moves ahead in line.
In return the city could demand, through interlocal agreements, two things that are in BOCC hands but could prove far more fruitful for economic development.
One, force an agreement in writing on the Economic Development Council, living to the original parameters agreed when the current director was hired more than a year ago.
In effect, compel the BOCC to live, for once when it comes to economic development, to its agreement with Barry Sellers on length of contract and level of funding with the city also contributing its agreed portion.
In other words, go back to the beginning before the spite train roared through the BOCC meeting room and let Sellers do his job.
Get out of the way. If, after the finite period of his contract, work remains, a decision can be fairly reached.
At this point, Sellers has been hired to develop the economy of the county with one hand and one leg tied behind his back.
Second, force a written agreement that any RESTORE funds coming to the county are first earmarked to pay off the mortgage on port land along the Intracoastal Canal.
If there is going to be real economic development, real job creation that benefits the entire county, it is likely to come from that port, which is within the city limits, with St. Joe as a partner and the state invested.
The significant stumbling block for the port is that mortgage with Capital City Bank. Facilitate paying it off with the RESTORE windfall.
The lighthouse is surely not worth continued bad blood – even within the Historical Society – that seems part of the local government DNA.
And it is a shame that saving the lighthouse has became a competition to begin with – particularly when the competition results only in wounds.
The argument could be fairly made that a replica lighthouse, using the original as a model, would fit the Bayfront Park concept just fine.
But the award of the lighthouse to the city has positioned the City Commission for the opportunity to use foresight and long-term vision that the BOCC can never seem to get its hands around to the benefit of the entire county.
Shine the light a little farther than Salinas Park or Bayfront Park.