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Lighthouse hero shows the way
December 31, 2010  —  Charleston Post and Courier

Reprinted from the Post and Courier

December 31, 2010

Think one person can't make a difference? Consider the example of Johnny Ohlandt, who was instrumental in saving the Morris Island Lighthouse.

He's been a hands-on advocate for the landmark's preservation since the organized effort began in the 1990s. Robert New, founding member of Save the Light Inc., said it well: "He was the heart and soul of the whole effort. He's the guardian."

As reporter Bo Petersen recounted Monday, Mr. Ohlandt has long been focused on the daunting task of keeping the 134-year-old structure intact. He has been the unofficial guide to the lighthouse, which can only be reached by boat. And he always encouraged those who might help in its preservation to pitch in. Eventually, he and like-minded lighthouse supporters were able to buy the iconic structure on behalf of their organization, Save the Light Inc.

The lighthouse was later turned over to the state so that it could assist in the structure's preservation. The campaign finally achieved its primary goal this year: stabilizing the foundation of the lighthouse so that it is no longer in imminent danger of falling to a storm or the constant pounding of the waves. The project, also supported by the Army Corps of Engineers and local governments, should ensure that the landmark ultimately can get the full restoration it deserves.

But it all started with Mr. Ohlandt.

Mr. Ohlandt lives on James Island, within view of the lighthouse as well as Black's Island, which he purchased with the purpose of keeping it safe from development. He did so, in perpetuity, by protecting it with a conservation easement. As a result, Black's Island will continue to provide important wildlife habitat while other nearby islands are developed.

But Mr. Ohlandt, at age 80, isn't resting on his accomplishments. His next goal is a project that he believes will keep Morris Island from further erosion and could even restore some of its shoreline. He says the erosive effect of the Charleston jetties could be mitigated if the dredge spoil of the harbor-deepening project is deposited between the island and a break in the jetties, known as Dynamite Hole.

He cites a similar Army Corps of Engineers project that provided erosion relief to an island near Mobile Bay in Alabama. The key will be to include the disposal option in the study for the deepening of the channel into Charleston Harbor.

"It would do great things for Cummings Point, which is a national historic landmark," Mr. Ohlandt tells us. His plan also could be less costly than removing the dredged material further offshore.

Mr. Ohlandt has already demonstrated what perseverance can accomplish. If dealing with Morris Island's long-time erosion problem is his next project, it's a good bet something good will happen as a result.

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