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Don't Delay Lighthouse Project
December 26, 2004  —  Charleston Post and Courier

Reprinted from the Post and Courier

December 26, 2004

The restoration of the Morris Island Lighthouse can soon get under way thanks to an ongoing fundraising campaign, federal grants and a state allocation -- provided the state Budget and Control Board gives its approval. This long-awaited project should be given every support needed for its completion.

The board's endorsement of a contract for the stabilization project was recently delayed after Gov. Mark Sanford raised questions about the state's future commitment to the project. He noted that the state took title to the lighthouse to make it eligible for federal grants, not to assume additional costs.

"It is now roughly into an open-ended commitment," the governor told us. "Let's find out what the limits are. Let's define our commitment."

The governor said he has no objection to the $500,000 already allocated by the Legislature to assist the restoration, and that his remarks to the board shouldn't be construed as opposition to a contingency clause in the pending contract. That clause could commit the state to another $500,000 in the event of cost overruns.

Rep. Bobby Harrell, also a member of the Budget and Control Board, supports the project, even if additional funds are required to complete the stabilization. "It seems a shame to get to the 11th hour and not to do it," said Rep. Harrell, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

So far, the federal government is picking up two-thirds the cost of the project, primarily through grants obtained by the efforts of Save the Light Inc., a Charleston-based citizens' group that purchased the lighthouse from a private owner and has taken the lead in its preservation. Save the Light has had a hand in obtaining more than $2.6 million in private donations and federal support.

Save the Light gave title to the lighthouse to the state to ensure eligibility for federal grants to the restoration project. The state's $500,000 allocation, approved four years ago, recognizes the project's importance, and if additional funds are required for its long-term restoration, the Legislature and the governor should be willing to give the project additional consideration. So far, most of the heavy lifting on the project has been done by the citizens' group, with the cooperation of the Corps of Engineers.

Save the Light will continue to be the steward for the lighthouse, under a 99-year lease with the state, and will continue fundraising for its restoration after the stabilization project is complete. It should be apparent that the project will require the continued support of private individuals and corporations, of local government (Folly Beach and the city of Charleston have donated money) and of the state. A state-sanctioned license plate for the project raises about $20,000 a year.

Moreover, the lease agreement between Save the Light Inc. and the state cites the potential for the continued involvement of the state in the project: "It is understood that the lighthouse needs to be stabilized and preserved and ... such stabilization and preservation will be paid for by a combination of funds, including funds appropriated by federal, state and local governmental entities for such specific purpose." The lease lists private donations raised by Save the Light as another funding source.

The 126-year-old structure is one of South Carolina's most distinctive and beloved coastal landmarks as shown by the support given its restoration. The lighthouse also is a popular tourist site in a state where tourism is the number one industry.

Each month the essential stabilization project is delayed is another month that the lighthouse is at risk from storms, erosion and the shipworms in its wooden foundation. Any future request for state funds can be considered on its own merits, but the case for the lighthouse's stabilization already has been made. The Budget and Control Board should approve the contract that is a prerequisite to the long-awaited stabilization project getting under way next year.

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