Digest>Archives> September 1995

Cape Hatteras LighthouseDay of Reckoning approaching?

By Timothy Harrison


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How shocked would you feel if you turned on the evening news and heard Dan Rather reporting that the Statue of Liberty had just been toppled and destroyed by a storm? Or, would your heart skip a beat when you heard a news bulletin that the Washington Monument had just been washed away into the raging waters of the Potomoc? Improbable you say! Maybe so, but it is much more probable that you might turn on the news and hear that the tallest lighthouse in America was just smashed to pieces in a storm that hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The facts are un-refutable. Cape Hattears Lighthouse is in danger.

While the debate continues on whether to move Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or leave it where it is, thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent trying to figure out what to do.

One of the most frequently asked questions in our mail is, why is Cape Hatteras Light on our Doomsday List. The answer is simple, if the lighthouse is not moved back, we feel it will be lost forever. The shore-line in front of the lighthouse has eroded from 2000 feet to less than 150 feet.

One good storm and the base of the foundation could be undermined causing the lighthouse to topple. Floating foundations set just below the water table are the only thing keeping the 208 foot tower erect.

Several local groups have different opinions on what should be done. One group called, "Move the Lighthouse" obviously, by their name, wants to have the structure moved further inland. Another group, called, "Save the Lighthouse" wants the lighthouse to stay right where its at.

There is the argument that moving the lighthouse would take away from its historical significance. Quite frankly, that statement makes no sense to me. Block Island's Southeast Light was recently moved and it sure didn't loose its historical context. Cape Cod's Highland Light will be moved within the next 10 months and it won't lose historical significance. The other argument is to spend money to protect the lighthouse where it stands, which has been done up until now. Federal geological predictions that the tower should have tumbled into the sea long ago support this theory.

The National Park Service has taken the stand that the tower should be moved. However, where will the $12 million dollars come from that the Army Corps of Engineers say it will cost to move it.

Yet another new taxpayer funded study is due by September 30th on what to do.

After Hurricane Gordon crumbled one concrete and steel groin, burst through on row of sandbags, and surrounded the towers base with a 15 foot deep moat this past November the government laid 380 sandbags along the beach south and north of the lighthouse. These are no ordinary sandbags, they weigh three tons each and are piled more than 8 feet high.

That time the cost was $100,000. About that same time a groin repair cost taxpayers $356,000. A new groin scheduled to be built will cost another 1.5 million dollars. Don't forget the tons of money that was recently spent to renovate the tower which is again open to the public.

As the ocean edges closer to the 208 foot tower, the tallest in America, many people believe the structure will not survive a major storm. Just the planning alone to move the tower will take considerable time. The tower could not be moved in an emergency situation.

Hugh Morton a spokesman for "Save the Lighthouse" which donated $250,000 for repairs to the lighthouse roof and erosion control, still has another $250,000 in the bank.

Morton said not one nickel will go toward moving the lighthouse. He went on to say that it is simply to risky to move a brick and mortar structure of this height. "We feel that it would wind up a pile of bricks and some people would get killed," he said.

In the meantime, while the debates continue, Cape Hatteras Light sits exposed to the magnificent power and fury of the Atlantic Ocean.

In spite of what others say, we feel it should be moved. Cape Hatteras Light is in fact, "a light in danger" and will remain on our Doomsday List.

This story appeared in the September 1995 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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