Digest>Archives> January 1999

Lawsuit filed to Stop Move of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse!

By Timothy Harrison


As the beginning stages of the preparation of the move of America's tallest lighthouse proceeded as planned, the Dare County Board of Commissioners filed papers in Federal Court requesting an immediate and permanent injunction against the move.

The fact that the Commissioners filed this lawsuit is amazing!. Years of controversy, debate and studies preceded the recent Congressional approval of the bill that was signed into law by President Clinton.

Hugh Morton, a North Carolina businessman and head of the Save the Lighthouse Committee and the leading opponent against the move, held a meeting with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit trying to gain his support for his cause. He was flatly turned down by Babbit. Babbit said he would not go against the National Park Service and he sure wasn't about to go against the National Academy of Science which had previously issued numerous statements that the move is safe. But, foremost, the law is the law and unless the law is changed the process could not be reversed.

The injunction request claims that the National Park Service has never shared the moving contract with the public, that there were never any hearings on the budget process as to the amount of money needed to move the lighthouse and that the moving company awarded the contract will cut the lighthouse in three places to move it.

Anyone that has been reading the pages of Lighthouse Digest for the past couple of years, knows just how ridiculous those statements are. There have been years of public hearings, studies and reports, all indicating that the lighthouse can be moved safely and must be moved now if it is to be saved from the approaching shoreline. The statement that the lighthouse will be cut into three parts is so wrong, it's stupid. The only reason these business leaders want the move stopped, is to give them time to attempt to change the law about the building of groins along the coastline to stop the erosion that is threatening their properties. The law currently makes it illegal to build any more groins. The local newspapers have blasted the Commissioners for this last ditch effort in a battle that they have already lost. The Sentinel, a local newspaper, said the injunction was "not their (the Commissioner's) shining moment and had Hugh Morton's fingerprints all over it." I'll go one step further, I say the entire Dare County Board of Commissioners should resign because of their actions which have jeopardized the safety of one of America's most historic landmarks. This is a statement I have said before and I'll keep saying it.

National Park Service Proceeds with Planned Move

In spite of the lawsuit, which a federal judge has yet to rule on, the National Park Service is proceeding with the planned move, which will take the lighthouse on a journey 2900 feet to the southwest and safety from the eroding shoreline. In the meantime, the National Park Service opened the tower for one final time before the move, to allow people to climb to the top of the lighthouse to get that last view at the old location. Those who made that last climb at the old location will truly have something to tell their grandchildren.

Visitors from around the world are expected to converge on North Carolina to watch what is probably the most historic event in American lighthouse history, since the move of the Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island, Rhode Island several years ago. Although access to the site and "move corridor" will be restricted by a construction fence, there will be a public viewing area running parallel to the landward side of the move which will allow onlookers within 200 feet of the work in progress.

International Chimney Corporation has presented the National Park Service a phased work plan for the move. The relocation of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will be divided in seven phases of work - preparatory work; foundation removals and temporary support; structure load and transfer lifting; structure relocation; structure lowering and load transfers to foundation; emergency procedures for structure and systems preparation and, if necessary, the 7th phase of temporary storage in route.

The preparatory work phase includes the identification and installation of bracing, reinforcing, or structural enhancement necessary to prepare all the structures for the relocation process. The Principle and double assistant keepers quarters and the oil house will be moved along with the lighthouse.

Following the authorized outage of the light by the U.S. Coast Guard, all electrical service will be terminated to the beacon and lens protection and bracing will be put in place. Brickwork inspection, necessary splinting, exterior plinth reinforcement, entry stairway removal, and entryway bracing are part of the preparation necessary before the lighthouse can be moved.

Basically, the lighthouse will then be moved on railroad type tracks to its new location and lowered onto its new foundation.

A temporary information center and sales area has been established and a viewing deck installed on the northwest corner of the 4-way intersection leading to the lighthouse.

The first to be moved will be the Keepers quarters and oil house, followed thereafter by the actual lighthouse itself.

This story appeared in the January 1999 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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