Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Will Be Moved
Move a Lighthouse, Save the Beach: Hatteras Lighthouse on the Move

MAKING WAVES, June/July 1999

     For over 125 years, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has stood as a black and white stripped sentinel for the treacherous stretch of the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina's Outer Banks. The lighthouse has become an icon of the North Carolina coast and a beacon for surfers as well, marking one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast. Over the years, rising sea level and subsequent island migration has imperiled the lighthouse. The Atlantic Ocean has been threatening to swallow the very structure that has thwarted her ability to devour ships for centuries.
     For years, the lighthouse has been protected from the surf by three submerged concrete groins built with the notion that they would trap the shifting sand and build up the beach in front of the lighthouse. However, the three existing groins and an arsenal "soft" geo textile sandbags were not enough to protect the lighthouse from the migrating beach. In addition, there was ample concern that the groins actually accentuated erosion on neighboring beaches. In North Carolina, state officials have been steadfast in refusing to allow the construction of any new hardened structures along the shifting barrier islands that make up the state's the fragile and treasured Outer Banks      After controversial debate over moving the lighthouse or building a temporary fourth groin to protect it from further erosion, it was finally decided that the course of action is to MOVE THE LIGHTHOUSEča victory for both the coast and the lighthouse!      The lighthouse will be moved 2,900 feet to the southwest. At its new location the lighthouse, now standing a few hundred feet from the at ocean high tide, will be located about 1,600 feet from the shoreline. Amazingly enough, the lighthouse was about the same distance from the sea when it was originally built. There is no question that as Orrin Pilkey, a famous resident geologist, states "the beaches are moving".      The Outer Banks and Virginia Beach Surfrider Foundation chapters were instrumental in seeking the lighthouse's preservation by relocation to a new site. They also advocated the protection of the beaches, dunes and waves by seeking an alternative that prevented the construction of any new shore protection structures near the lighthouse.      This move marks a victory for the North Carolina coast in several ways and will hopefully be precedent setting. All groups involved succeeded in the historic preservation of a surfing and national landmark, the protection of the beaches from new coastal structures, and have provided a chance for the beach to return to a more natural condition. Perhaps most importantly, they are setting a precedent for coastal retreat ≠ moving a structure away from the threat of erosion as opposed to armoring the coast and sacrificing the beach to protect the structure.      Moving the towering lighthouse will be no easy task. Bracing will be placed around the lighthouse beacon to protect it during the move, and steel beams will be inserted into cores drilled through the lighthouse foundation to form a supporting frame. The lighthouse will then be lifted off its foundation by hydraulic jacks attached to the steel frame. The hydraulic system will keep the tower from tipping and the lighthouse will be pushed about one or two inches an hour on steel tracks toward its new home.      Although the question remains whether or not the groins and geotextile bags should be removed, a major victory has still been won for the beach and an important precedent has been set!

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