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"Proceed Carefully"
Mobile Register Editorial

Taken from the Editorial Section
Monday, July 14, 2008

PRESERVING TWO historic lighthouses in Alabama coastal waters is going to cost money regardless of how it's done.

People who grew up in the area and spent a lot of time on the water especially have fond memories of the Middle Bay Lighthouse and the Sand Island Lighthouse off Dauphin Island. Middle Bay Lighthouse, which dates back to 1885, is still a fishing spot and navigational marker for boaters.

But despite the efforts of the non-profit Alabama Lighthouse Association, both lighthouses are deteriorating and both need a solid, dependable source of funding for maintenance. That's why the association proposes to move the Middle Bay Lighthouse to Battleship Memorial Park, according to association official Warren Lee.

The association would rather keep Middle Bay Lighthouse in its historic setting, Mr. Lee says.

But the lighthouse needs several hundred thousand dollars worth of restoration work, and that work is much more expensive when done from the water.

In 2002, the Alabama Historical Commission sponsored a $350,000 restoration of the lighthouse, with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the commission and private donations. But Mr. Lee says that work, which included replacing the roof, was structural and needed to keep the lighthouse standing. Without it, he said, the lighthouse would not have survived Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

Now detail work is needed where the lighthouse has dry-rotted, such as on the exterior. A new hand-rail is needed; and most important, the steel structure that supports the lighthouse needs repair.

Moving the lighthouse to Battleship Park is likely to involve a crane and barge, and the cost is very roughly estimated at $1 million. There, it could be restored and seen by residents and visitors alike. Currently, it can't be visited without a boat.

At the park, it would generate revenue.

As for Sand Island Lighthouse, dating back to 1873, the town of Dauphin Island has received an engineering study that reviews the options for preserving and restoring it, Mr. Lee says. That study has not been released to the public.

Sand Island itself was washed away in a 1906 hurricane. The cost of moving the lighthouse to Dauphin Island has been estimated in the millions of dollars.

Both lighthouses are important parts of Mobile's history, but major private fund-raising campaigns will likely be needed to move them or restore them where they sit. Either option is certainly feasible.

In 1999, the well-known Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet inland to save it from the waves of the Atlantic. The lighthouse was placed on rollers and inched to its new location inland by hydraulic jacks. The project costs millions of dollars.

Citizens of Mobile and Baldwin counties, then, need to think about just how badly they want to save the lighthouses, whether the historic structures should be moved or restored, and whether they are willing to donate money when the time comes.

Federal and state grants may be possible, but moving a lighthouse is just the sort of project that could be considered political pork if the money comes from taxpayers. Residents of the coastal counties should take ownership of these important pieces of history and see to it that they are saved.

Fort Gaines Sand Island Light House Shell Mounds on Dauphin Island Dauphin Island History Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium

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