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Reprinted from the Post and Courier
January 26, 2005
By Robert Behre of the Post and Courier Staff
Eddie Ellis felt so apprehensive about the state's wavering on a $3.17 million project to stabilize the Morris Island Lighthouse that he collected more than 1,600 signatures and traveled to Columbia to present his petitions in person.
The Folly Beach city councilman's efforts, and those of other lighthouse supporters, paid off Tuesday when the state Budget and Control Board approved a deal that clears the way for the project to begin later this year.
The brick lighthouse, originally built on Morris Island about 1,200 feet from shore, has stood in the Atlantic Ocean for decades, increasingly susceptible to hurricanes and erosion. About a quarter of its foundation has been eaten by shipworms.
In his bid to save the lighthouse, Ellis wrote a letter to Gov. Mark Sanford, who last month expressed concern that the project amounted to "throwing money into the sea." Sanford spoke those words right after the Budget and Control Board postponed action on the lighthouse deal.
"I was trying to give him a measuring stick of how his constituents feel," Ellis said of his letter and petition. "I was trying to be positive ... even though it was something that could be nasty. I like the governor; I really do."
Sanford's spokesman, Will Folks, said the governor never objected to the $500,000 in state money already approved toward the project.
"His concern was that we not set up a system where additional funding was approved outside of the appropriate legislative process," Folks said. "That's what we've said from Day One."
The board approved signing all necessary agreements to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval for the project, including the state assuming responsibility for any cost overruns. If the state's cost were to exceed $500,000, the board's staff would notify board members.
Fred Wichmann of Save the Light Inc. said the nonprofit group is willing to cover any overruns.
"We're going to have a meeting Thursday, and I expect our board of directors will approve that," he said. "We want that light to be preserved. We're willing to put ourselves on the line, and we're banking on the community to back us up."
Jimmy Hadden, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said he was glad to hear of the state's decision. Once his office receives formal notice, it will forward the project to the corps' headquarters for final review.
Hadden said he hoped construction could start by the end of this year on the first phase, a $3.17 million project to install a steel cofferdam and surround it with a ring of massive boulders.
A second phase, estimated to cost $700,000, would involve injecting concrete into the wood-piling foundation to fill any areas eaten by worms. The final $2.1 million phase would include other preservation steps, such as a paint job restoring the light-house's original appearance: two horizontal black stripes on a field of white.
Ellis said he was glad the project is back on track. "I could have gotten a lot more signatures," he added.