Coastal Community Association president Pat Hardman called it the elephant in the room
While a host of issues were raised and discussed during the nearly two-hour annual CCA membership meeting last Saturday at St. Joseph Country Club, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and the decision by the U.S. Department of Interior to award the lighthouse and ancillary buildings to the City of Port St. Joe drew the most passionate debate.
In short, there did not seem, by a raise of hands, much support for the notion of taking the lighthouse off the cape and moving it into the city.
But, Hardman noted, the CCA had taken the issue about as far as it could.
A protest from the CCA to the Department of Interior, she said, was not taken up by the agency because the Board of County Commissioners – which joined the city as the only two applicants for the lighthouse – had written a letter that, in part, offers support to the city’s and its efforts to preserve the lighthouse.
Also coming under attack were the logistics of moving the lighthouse to the city. Noted during the meeting was that while the city has estimated the move at $300,000, it has applied for nearly $1 million in RESTORE Act funds to facilitate the move.
In addition, the consensus was that the move would destroy the history of a lighthouse that has sat on Cape San Blas for more than a century and skepticism that the city understood what it was taking on in attempting to move the lighthouse – which Hardman said would require two 40-ton cranes and a drive that would require covering nearly 30 miles using 13 Mile Road.
The county proposed to move the lighthouse two miles down C-30E to Salinas Park.
“I don’t think anybody understands the structure,” Hardman said. She has done extensive work examining the costs and logistics for moving the lighthouse. “Technically, they could destroy the lighthouse in the move.”
“I actually took for granted that (the county) would be going to get it,” said County Commissioner Warren Yeager, whose district covers the area of the CCA, which includes most everything from St. Joseph Peninsula to Indian Pass.
“If the city can fund it, and I have my doubts, then that is the decision. I have serious doubts they can raise the money. If the city can not perform on their contract, we still have an opportunity.”
Hardman also noted a focus group recently selected by Port St. Joe city commissioners to consider and provide input about the proposed plans for a city park to which the lighthouse would be relocated.
“Maybe we can talk to them about building something nice for the city and we can save our lighthouse,” Hardman said.
Prompted by questions, Yeager pledged that he would not allow the BOCC to bail out the city for any of the $1 million proposed cost reflected in the city’s pre-proposal application to the RESTORE Act committee.
Julia Cunningham said the lighthouse relocation should not even qualify under the RESTORE Act funding criteria and suggested the county try to postpone the transfer of the lighthouse and buildings until the city demonstrates the fiscal ability to relocate the lighthouse and maintain it at a new location.
“This has the potential to become an embarrassment,” Cunningham said.
Betty McNeill, as she did during a BOCC meeting several weeks ago, expressed dismay that moving the lighthouse off the cape was even under discussion and said a decision by the St. Joseph Historical Society to support the move to the city involved “a conflict of interest.”
“What is distressing to me is people are misstating the facts,” McNeill said. “It is a distressful thing to take a historic site and put it in an amusement park. I think the decision by the historical society involved some conflict of interest.
“We have a lot of support for keeping it on the cape. There are other members (of the historical society) who say they do not agree with moving it off the cape. History is being destroyed and ignored.”
Several questioned and CCA members said the new system of trash/pet stations on the peninsula and cape beaches was “inadequate.”
The Gulf County Tourist Development Council recently launched a campaign to bring more uniformity to pet/trash stations on the beach and setting stations so that county work crews could easily access and clean them.
However, TDC director Jennifer Jenkins, who received warm, generous applause for her efforts the first six months on the job, was grilled by several people who said there were too few stations too far apart and the beach could become “a landfill” when the tourist season arrives.
Jenkins explained the efforts she had undertaken, including going out for qualifications for a beach cleaning company.
“I am trying to get some uniformity,” Jenkins said. “The beaches are important to me.”
She said the TDC with input from Yeager would visit the issue and examine potential solutions for more trash/pet stations.
“We will address that,” Yeager said. “There is some concern there and we will address it.”
On the same issue, Yeager said he also wanted to hear from the public about potentially adopting “Leave No Trace” ordinances for beachgoers.