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Photo caption: The Morris Island Lighthouse stands in 10 feet of Atlantic Ocean water.
UNKNOWN BUYER: An unidentified man beat the Morris Island Lighthouse Committee to the punch and has an option to buy that expires February 10.
Efforts to preserve the historic Morris Island Lighthouse were thrown into doubt Tuesday after disclosure that an unidentified man has an option to buy the structure.
Local residents had hoped to purchase the 19th-century lighthouse off Folly Beach from the Columbia businessman who owns it and turn it over to the state for preservation.
The Morris Island Lighthouse Committee made an offer to buy the lighthouse for less than $100,000, the amount wanted by Columbia businessman Paul Gunter, said Robert New, co-chairman of the committee.
But the group recently learned that an unidentified man has an option to buy the lighthouse from Gunter. The option expires Feb. 10, New said.
"It would be a travesty should the lighthouse fall into the wrong hands. It certainly puts a cloud over its future", New said.
The lighthouse was built in 1876 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It now sits stranded in the sea off the shore of Folly Beach.
Fearing that the constant battering of ocean waves will one day topple the 158-foot-high structure, New and others have hoped they could buy it and turn it over to the state.
The nonprofit group has also pushed the state to take ownership, but the state never sued to do so. Concerned about the liability and the cost of restoring it, no state or local agency has stepped up to purchase it.
"This has dragged on and on and on. I can't imagine what anyone would want with the lighthouse, which from a dollars and cents viewpoint is one huge liability", New said.
New hoped that whoever held the option would either back down or turn the lighthouse over to the state.
State Rep. Lynn Seithel, R-Charleston, wondered why anyone would want the lighthouse since the state can sue to claim ownership. The S.C. Attorney General's office has said the lighthouse is owned by the state because it stands in state waters.
The Morris Island group is all the more frustrated because it obtained the money to buy the lighthouse and thought its offer was accepted, New said. "We did everything we were asked to do. This whole thing is shrouded in mystery", he said.
A message left at Gunter's home was not returned Tuesday. His attorney, Jamison Cox of Charleston, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
New also said it would be "repulsive" if someone sought to profit off the lighthouse.