As local officials and a committee of citizens consider long-term solutions to saving the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, Port St. Joe city commissioners looked at the short-term last week.\
During their regular bi-monthly meeting, commissioners considered the potential of a band-aid for the lighthouse and grounds while a permanent remedy is examined.
Mayor Mel Magidson met the prior week with officials from Eglin Air Force Base, which owns and leases to the county the lighthouse grounds, as well as engineers and building movers to consider the best option for saving the lighthouse, the two keepers’ quarters on the grounds and the oil shed.
Magidson said that following the wave action from Hurricane Isaac, the lighthouse grounds are losing their footing by the day.
“We’re down to 35 to 40 feet on one end and maybe 50 feet on the north end, of shoreline,” Magidson said. “The lighthouse itself is fairly safe for the time being.”
The lighthouse and gift shop remain open to visitors, Beverly Mount-Douds emphasized in a phone call last week.
Magidson said the conclusion among the gathering was that moving the keepers’ quarters and oil house deeper into the property, effectively moving them behind the lighthouse in relation to the coastline, was the optimal path.
“That would buy us maybe 135-140 feet,” Magidson said, easing somewhat the timetable for the fundraising effort to save the entire lighthouse and grounds, which is estimated to cost north of $300,000.
The drive is nosing toward $40,000. The St. Joseph Historical Society is selling Christmas ornaments that are replicas of the lighthouse for $20 – the cost to produce is $10, the other $10 going to the Save the Lighthouse campaign – and are also selling posters of Debbie Hooper aerials of the lighthouse and grounds for $12.95.
The ornaments are available at Portside Trading, Joseph’s Cottage, Bayside Florist and the No Name Café. The posters and ornaments are both available at the Cape San Blas Lighthouse gift shop.
“We just had another delivery of ornaments so we are ready for any order,” said Charlotte Pierce of the Historical Society. “We are being optimistic.”
The central milestone now is government action.
The land has been declared surplus by the Air Force and the process of putting the land under the jurisdiction of the General Services Administration for disposal to the private sector is underway.
However, as of press time a final determination on the proposal to move the keepers’ quarters had not been made and while the GSA is reportedly moving “with due speed” on moving the disposal process along, the exact timetable is unknown.
“We are the mercy of nature and the federal government, and I am not sure which is worse,” Magidson said.
Underscoring the importance of the lighthouse as a tourist destination, Commissioner Rex Buzzett noted that Panama City had recently unveiled plans to renovate a portion of the downtown marina area to accommodate a lighthouse.
As for the long-term with the lighthouse, commissioners approved a request from the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency to award a contract to Associates, LLC for the planning phase of a Lighthouse Park along the bayfront Port St. Joe.
The city has proposed for months moving the lighthouse to the bayfront as the centerpiece for recreational facility in George Core Park.
The planning will be funded by a $20,000 “planning” grant secured by the PSJRA.
Gail Alsobrook, executive director of the PSJRA, said Associates, which had volunteered earlier to spearhead a task force for saving the lighthouse and grounds, would consider all of George Core Park and options for a “water and recreation” area to attract tourists.
“They would be looking at that to not only bring in tourists but also to have an educational component,” Alsobrook said, alluding to the history of the lighthouse and its connection to the community. “It would showcase the history and authenticity here.”
Part of the planning phase will include meetings to solicit public comment, Alsobrook noted.
Meanwhile, a citizens committee has been formed and is examining options for saving the lighthouse and grounds.