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Lighthouse foundation anxious to get to work

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Osprey holding up project to replace dock on breakwater

Mother Nature has not been kind to the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation.

It's been five years since foundation volunteers have done repair or maintenance work at the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. The biggest obstacle to overcome has been to affix a permanent docking facility that will withstand storms.

"We don't have a safe place to get onto the breakwater or move off and on equipment. The dock has been our Achilles' heel," said William "Red" Moulinier, board president.

Docking or walking on the slippery breakwater rocks is unsafe, Moulinier said.

Moulinier said the group started raising money for a new dock in 2010 and has a substantial federal grant. Now that enough money has been secured for a dock, a new problem has arisen: a nest of young osprey now sits atop the lighthouse. State environmental officials won't let any work take place until the osprey leave the nest. Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control spokesman Michael Globetti said the permit to build the dock includes a stipulation that work can't take place to disturb the nest from March 1 to Aug. 31. However, he said, work would be allowed to start if the young chicks fledge or the nest fails.

Repeated storms have destroyed several docks, and Superstorm Sandy delivered the killing blow in 2012. The 190-year-old lighthouse sits at the east end of the outer Delaware breakwater.

Moulinier said hopes that a new dock would be part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in 2011 to rebuild the breakwater were dashed because of cost overruns.

Thanks to a federal $686,000 Sandy Relief Grant, the group for the first time will have a metal fabricated dock that can withstand the waves that pound the breakwater. The dock has been completed by Marine Technology in Baltimore, and the company is prepared to mobilize to start the project.

The delay has been frustrating to foundation members who are anxious to get back to work They know the historic, white-and-black iconic structure has taken a beating.

While the foundation still conducts sunset tours, it has not been able to conduct lighthouse tours, which raise funds to help restore the 1926 lighthouse.

Moulinier said the company is ready to move the dock to the location as soon as they get the go-ahead. He said if the company can work 24 hours a day it can complete the project in about two weeks.

Laura Burgess, an engineer with Keast & Hood, said maintenance and repair efforts at the lighthouse must get back on track this year. "With another winter, there will be even more deterioration, and that's the last thing we want to see," she said.

Carper takes tour to lighthouse

On July 5, foundation members took Sen. Tom Carper and some of his staff on a boat trip to the breakwater. "We wanted him to see what is going on," Moulinier said.

During the tour, Moulinier also informed the senator of an ongoing issue that could affect the lighthouse and the breakwater itself. "A lot of stones are missing," he told Carper. "They have tumbled down into the water, and it's really gotten bad over the past year. There is a void forming below the lighthouse."

He said his theory is that the fast current around the breakwater is scouring out the bottom of the rock wall, forcing the 10-to 13-ton stones to break loose.

Carper press secretary Katie Wilson said the senator's representatives have spoken to Army Corps officials about maintenance at the breakwater.

Historic lighthouse, breakwater

The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse is part of the maritime history of the area, and so is the outer Delaware Breakwater where it sits. The 76-foot, cast-iron lighthouse was completed in November 1926, replacing a wooden lighthouse in a different location on the breakwater. The lighthouse, which still serves as an aid to navigation, was donated in 2004 to the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation. It was automated in December 1973.

The nearly 1.5 mile-long outer breakwater was finished in 1901, built from more than 2 million tons of granite. The inner and outer breakwaters combined form the Harbor of Refuge, and the entire area is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The breakwaters were considered engineering marvels during their time.



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Original Publication Date: July 8, 2016



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