With the Florida Legislature winding down its annual legislative session with consideration of the budget in the coming days, the Coastal Community Association is ramping up its campaign to keep the Cape San Blas Lighthouse on the cape.
Specifically, the CCA is focusing on a $200,000 state appropriation which is currently in the budget to help the city of Port St. Joe “save” the lighthouse.
“This is not just pork, but spoiled pork in our state budget,” said Pat Hardman, president of the CCA in an email to association members and South Gulf County residents.
Hardman requested that CCA members and other interested parties phone or email the county’s legislative delegation earlier this week to protest the appropriation and ask for its exclusion from the budget.
The appropriation was among those cited in a recent Associated Press story outlining some of the local projects lawmakers have earmarked funding for given a budget surplus that has been estimated at more than $1 billion.
If passed by the full Legislature, this year’s appropriation would be in addition to a $325,000 appropriation secured for the lighthouse relocation last year by State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee).
This year’s appropriation, which was placed in the budget by Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City Beach) who no longer represents Gulf County, appears targeted to defray the costs for downing Duke Energy power lines to accommodate the relocation of the lighthouse and ancillary buildings – two keepers’ quarters and an oil house – from the cape to a Port St. Joe park.
The cost of that power line work is estimated at $170,000.
Two weeks ago city commissioners formally awarded the contract for relocation to GAC Contractors. GAC has bid to move the lighthouse and buildings for a combined $560,000, more or less.
“Of course, this is contingent upon having every dollar that we need,” said Mayor Mel Magidson as the bid was being awarded.
A detailed outline of current financial commitments for the project shows the city has approximately $531,500 for the relocation, the money coming from a variety of sources.
With some BP settlement funds supplementing new state appropriation, if approved, dollars for the relocation would be in hand.
“This unnecessary additional taxpayer expenditure is a waste of taxpayer money and is not necessary to preserve the historic lighthouse,” Hardman said.
The CCA has been critical of characterizations from Magidson that the relocation would not cost city taxpayers when the state, if this year’s appropriation survives the budget process, will have sent more than $500,000 in tax money.
“I have committed from day one that no money from the (city’s) budget would be spent on the project,” said Magidson during several commission meetings.
In addition, the CCA contended that contrary to language in the state budget, the $200,000 is not “to save” the lighthouse.
The CCA would be able to accomplish saving the lighthouse by moving it to Salinas Park using private donations together with the previous state appropriation of $325,000.
“The present and pledged donations plus the previous state grant will be sufficient to pay for the relocation to Salinas Park, without further use of public taxpayer dollars, state or local,” Hardman said.
Hardman and her group also note other needs, particularly clean drinking water, pressing on the city. Additionally, the history of the 160-year-old lighthouse would be lost by a move to the city.
“Using additional dollars to move the lighthouse is unnecessary and a waste of tax dollars,” Hardman said.
The major hurdle to the CCA’s campaign remains what it has been since December 2012 – the federal government deeded the lighthouse and ancillary buildings to the city of Port St. Joe following an application window.
The Board of County Commissioners also applied to receive the lighthouse, but the city’s application, based on a proposal for a BayPark which has since been shelved, was accepted.