The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the National Parks Service stating that the county would work with the city of Port St. Joe on the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse.
But the letter would also highlight that if the city is unable to fund and perform the relocation to a proposed BayPark the county still had an interest in moving the lighthouse to Salinas Park.
The discussion was spurred by several residents of Cape San Blas and Indian Pass who dissented to the National Parks Service decision to award the lighthouse to the city.
The BOCC had also submitted an application for the lighthouse – the city and county were the only two applicants – but the National Parks Service in a letter stated that the city’s proposal was the more attractive.
“Thank you for trying to keep the Cape San Blas Lighthouse on the cape, we have been out-lobbied by the city,” said Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association. “We just didn’t get out and lobby that we had a safer place.”
Hardman noted that the county had a lease with the U.S. Air Force – which declared the lighthouse and grounds surplus early last year – that spanned until 2029 and that the county had provided annual upkeep and insured the lighthouse and grounds for recreational activities.
She said the cost to move the lighthouse to Salinas Park was estimated at half that to move the structures into the city and that Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidon’s “legacy could become the mayor’s folly.”
She urged the BOCC to protest the decision and to let the federal government know the county still wanted the lighthouse for Salinas Park.
Julia Cunningham said once the lighthouse, which has stood on the cape for some 200 years, was moved to the city the “history will be lost.”
Particularly outspoken about the proposed move to the city was Betty McNeill, who served on the lighthouse committee with the St. Joseph Historical Society when that group was seeking grant funds to preserve the keepers’ quarters and lighthouse.
McNeill was not present when the Historical Society recently voted unanimously in support of the move to the city, but said she saw the city’s action as “a covetous, greedy land grab.”
“I am shocked that this could come up,” McNeill said. “A mistake has been made and I think with effort a mistake can be corrected.
“I don’t think the lighthouse should be taken off the cape. I am shocked, surprised and certainly disappointed that the city would steal something that belongs on the south end of the county.”
Commissioner Warren Yeager said the BOCC should send a letter to the National Park Services saying if the city could not fulfill its obligations to move the lighthouse, the county should be considered next in line.
“We are in line and ready to take that on,” Yeager said.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan said the BOCC should consider the tone of such a letter. She said she did want to reinforce existing fissures between the city and county and that the county should express its willingness to work with the city, with the caveat of the city could not fund the relocation the county be considered.
“I don’t want to see us in a position of being against the city,” Bryan said. “The city is in our county. We’ve got to get rid of drawing that line (between us).
“We all need to work together to do what is best for the county, not dig in our heels and waste resources and time.”
Gail Alsobrook, director of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency, which has spearheaded the planning for BayPark said the city was about to embark on a capital campaign to fund the relocation and urged commissioners to consider the “psychological” impact of a vote that would be seen as being anti-city.
“I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to work together in solidarity,” Alsobrook said.
Yeager, acknowledging Bryan’s comments, said he would amend his motion to note that the county would work with the city but if the city failed in its efforts, encourage the National Parks Service to consider the county.
“We all agreed that once this decision was made we do all we need to work together to preserve and protect this piece of Gulf County history,” Yeager said. “We want to work with the city.”
The BOCC in conjunction with the city of Port St. Joe and other stakeholders will hold a workshop on the future of the Economic Development Council 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Jan. at the EOC building.