With a county commissioner expressing confidence that that the lighthouse will end up with the county and a coalition of stakeholders pressing for a reboot of relocation efforts, Port St. Joe commissioners took small steps forward last week.
The city of Port St. Joe received bids for the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and ancillary buildings but commissioners and staff are examining the potential for invoking a local preference provision under city rules.
The lowest bid for relocating the lighthouse came from Worth Contracting out of Jacksonville. The company’s bid was $304,500.
However, GAC Contractors came in at $321,700, second-lowest for the lighthouse, while submitting the low bid, $188,750, for relocating the other buildings, two keepers’ quarters and an oil storage house into the city.
The city has a local preference that could provide a 5 percent adjustment for a local bidder, which GAC would be.
Commissioner Rex Buzzett said later in last week’s meeting that commissioners should consider amending that provision to mandate a preference for a local bidder whose bid was within $5,000 of the lowest bid, providing the local bidder would agree to perform the work at the cost of the lowest bid.
The lowest bids for the relocation of all structures from the current lighthouse site – the federal government has said all buildings must be moved – combine for $510,450, slightly less than the low bidder for the combined relocation of all structures.
The city bid the job out in two phases after being unsatisfied with the first rounds of bids.
The new round of bidders were familiar from the previous round, though Mayor Mel Magidson did not express a similar reluctance to awarding the bids due to concerns over expertise in moving the structures.
What the bids do not include is a method for addressing a significant hurdle.
“The bid does not include dropping the power lines,” Magidson said. “The lines will have to come down either way.”
That punctuated a drawn out discussion between Magidson and Commissioner Bo Patterson concerning whether or not the power lines would indeed have to come down for the lighthouse and how that might impact cost.
During the discussion, a clearly agitated Magidson said, “I give up” trying to explain to Patterson the parameters of the move.
Patterson replied, “It doesn’t take much.”
Pat Hardman, owner of Gulf 2 Bay Construction and president of the Coastal Community Association, which has lobbied to move the lighthouse to Salinas Park, said her research indicates the lighthouse to be too tall to move under power lines, even if placed on its side on the back of a large hauler.
In addition to the power lines, Duke Energy has indicated the cost of lowering power lines to be in six figures, the bids seemed to eliminate the possibility of relocating any of the structures via barge.
All the bids hinge on relocation over land.
Commissioners took no formal action last week, but the clock is ticking along several lines, as noted by several speakers seeking to lobby the city to work with the county on relocation to Salinas Park.
The federal government has already granted two extensions of the time the city has to move the structures. The city was awarded the lighthouse more than a year ago and the original timeline mandated the structures relocation by last June.
That deadline has been extended at least twice.
In addition, the largest chunk of the funds for relocation, a state appropriation of $325,000, could potentially be lost if not spent by the end of the fiscal year in June.
Hardman contended that the city was facing total costs of at least $750,000 and wondered about any return on investment the city might realize, let alone where the city would secure total funding for the project.
By her estimates, given annual upkeep, maintenance and insurance, the city would only break-even after the first 8,000 visitors per year, paying $5 per.
She noted that the lighthouse has never had more than 7,500 documented visitors in a given year.
And, she wondered, what would be the extent of the tourist attraction if the lighthouse was moved from its centuries-old location, altering the historical context.
“The relocation becomes a financial issue on what can be made on it,” Hardman said, adding it could be 20 years before the city realizes its costs to relocate. “Look at the financial side and consider the history – no one thinks you are going to have vast numbers of people coming when you move it into the city.
“This is no longer about saving the lighthouse.”
She added that ongoing roadwork on State 30A would be a major hurdle into 2015 and that regardless of its ultimate destination, bringing the 60-75 ton lighthouse down could leave it unusable.
“To bring the lighthouse down is dangerous,” Hardman said. “When it comes down it may not be fixable. It’s a little bit of a Catch-22 because it has to be moved.”
Betty McNeill, who has from the outset bemoaned any proposal to move the lighthouse off Cape San Blas, said the city should remember the history and collaborate with the county on moving the lighthouse to Salinas Park.
“Some things you can’t put a price tag on and one is the historical significance of the lighthouse,” McNeill said. “The city and county should cooperate to preserve the lighthouse and the complex.
“If we are at odds with each other it will be more complicated.”