Give the city of Port St. Joe an option out.
The members of the Lighthouse Committee of the Coastal Community Association (CCA) on Tuesday pressed the Board of County Commissioners to engage again in the discussion about the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse.
Citing the lack of tangible progress by the city in saving the lighthouse by relocating it into the city, Julia Cunningham, Pat Hardman and Betty McNeill asked county commissioners to write a letter saying the county was willing to take over the project.
In short, the BOCC would reassert what it said early this year after the city was awarded the deed for the lighthouse and ancillary buildings by the federal government a year ago – that the BOCC would cooperate in the city’s efforts but was willing to take on the task if need be.
The members of the CCA said that time had arrived.
“I think the clock is running out and there are several insurmountable obstacles that we think we will prevent the city from moving the lighthouse,” Cunningham said.
Those factors include the cost of the move.
City staff submitted a request for over $900,000 to the county RESTORE Committee for consideration of the relocation of the lighthouse as a project to be funded by BP fine dollars.
There is no clear path to that money, Cunningham noted, and while she said the city had done a good job of fundraising – a $325,000 state appropriation, $25,000 from Duke Energy and roughly $40,000 through a Save the Lighthouse campaign- the dollars secured fell well short of what was needed.
She expressed concern the city might be able to pull off the lighthouse move while leaving the ancillary buildings behind, destroying the integrity of the lighthouse complex.
Further, Cunningham said roadwork on State 30A will prevent the lighthouse from being moved over land until mid-2015. A proposal to move the lighthouse and buildings by barge has gone nowhere.
City commissioners received two bids on the relocation but threw both out at the request of Mayor Mel Magidson, who said he believed the contractors were ill-equipped and lacked the knowledge to move the lighthouse.
The city is now bidding the relocation in two phases – one to move the lighthouse, the other to move the two keepers’ quarters and oil house. Those bids are to be received next month.
The city has also let out a bid to have the lighthouse lens removed and restored. The lens is owned by the Coast Guard.
But, Cunningham noted, the city’s second extension of a deadline to move the lighthouse from the federal government expires in mid-January.
The CCA proposes, as a fair number of residents in the county do, to move the lighthouse to Salinas Park, two miles down the cape from the current lighthouse location.
“All the original reasons (to move the lighthouse to Salinas Park) remain in play,” Cunningham said, including historic integrity.
She said the state appropriation – which must be spent during the current fiscal year or it could be lost – and current donations combined with pledges from those who want the lighthouse to remain on Cape San Blas, where it has stood for more than 150 years, would push the CCA close to the fiscal goal.
Hardman lauded the city’s efforts to date and noted the county was in no position to provide any funding.
But she said after a year the city has raised barely a third of what the city originally requested from the RESTORE Committee.
“The city has spent a lot man-hours and money on this,” Hardman said, adding that the city had other fish to fry, such as the quality of drinking water. “You might find there are a lot of citizens who might be interested in having the county take this project back.”
Hardman said the CCA would need to raise another $100,000 or so to facilitate the move to Salinas Park.
Hardman also said the move itself to the city would prove problematic. The owner of Gulf 2 Bay Construction, Hardman said the lighthouse, to be moved would require great care and the more it has to be moved, taken apart, repositioned, etc., would bring greater risk of damage.
“It is complex,” Hardman said. “The thing weighs 120 tons. Any time you move that structure there is a risk.”
The short relocation to Salinas Park would be far safer, she added.
“It needs to stay on the cape to maintain the historical significance of the lighthouse,” said Betty McNeill, a vocal opponent of the move from the outset. “The county really needs to retain ownership. I want the county to assume responsibility.”
That, Commissioner Warren Yeager said, would also present obstacles.
The federal government has deeded the lighthouse to the city. The city would have to give up the deed. The state appropriation was bestowed on the city. Those dollars, along with those raised during the Save the Lighthouse campaign, would have to be transferred to the county.
Yeager also noted the BOCC’s position when the federal government deeded the lighthouse to the city: the county would support the city’s efforts as it could.
“I’d love to have the lighthouse at Salinas Park,” Yeager said. “But what are you asking this board to do?”
The outcome, approved 4-1 with Commissioner Joanna Bryan dissenting, was a letter to the city saying the county was willing to take over if the city desired to abandon the project while reaffirming support, where possible, for the city’s efforts.
Bryan said she would prefer county staff sit down with Port St. Joe staff and provide an update on the city’s position before writing a formal letter.