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Public ownership of the Morris Island lighthouse is a prerequisite for its restoration, and the rejuvenation of a campaign on behalf of the historic structure offers the best hope for a resolution of the ownership issue. If this state landmark is to have a future, the involvement of the state will be necessary.
The campaign to save the lighthouse has been joined by local mayors, Charleston County Council's chairman and the chairman of the county Park and Recreation Commission, all of whom have urged the state's intervention, based on the lighthouse's importance in the state's maritime history and its landmark status.
The attorney general's office recognized the state's interest in the property when it sought to gain title to the lighthouse from a Columbia businessman, who purchased it from a local entrepreneur eight years ago.
The state's claim, based on the fact that the lighthouse is located in state-controlled waters, has yet to be resolved. A state attorney says it would cost more to litigate than to buy the property.
The ownership question shouldn't linger any longer. Renovation can't commence without a comprehensive survey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't undertake that job while the lighthouse is in private hands.survey would determine what needs to be done, and how much it would cost.
Public ownership also would open up the possibility of grants or other allocations for the lighthouse's preservation. Recently, for example, Congress approved more than $8 million to save the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, which is threatened by the ocean.
There is much local sentiment to stabilize the structure, as evidenced by thousands of signatures already collected on a petition seeking the state's support. Robert New, co-chairman of the Save the Light committee, says that fund-raising plans are under way to help defray the cost of renovation.
The expense probably will require a variety of public and private sources. Clearly, the acquisition and restoration of the lighthouse is a job that the local Park and Recreation Commission believes that it can't financially undertake.
No work on behalf of the lighthouse can advance beyond the most preliminary stage until the ownership question is settled.
The Charleston Legislative Delegation should serve as an advocate for the lighthouse, to ensure the state's involvement in its preservation.