Cattle Point Lighthouse fix not that easy; new foundation possible within two years

Former San Juan County fire marshal Rick Galer estimates that 25 percent of the Cattle Point Lighthouse
Former San Juan County fire marshal Rick Galer estimates that 25 percent of the Cattle Point Lighthouse's footing is exposed due to wind erosion. The lighthouse may get a new foundation within two years.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Cattle Point Lighthouse is endangered.

Seven months ago, John M. Barberi of the Coast Guard's waterway management projects office in Seattle had hoped to bring a work crew out to the landmark by June to fix the erosion that threatens the lighthouse's foundation.

The plan: Reinforce the foundation with sheet piles — driven piles of thin interlocking sheets of steel to obtain a continuous barrier in the ground — and concrete.

But the erosion is beyond that remedy, Barberi said. The project has been referred to a Coast Guard civilian engineer in Oakland, Calif. who says that, if nothing were done, the lighthouse would last another two years.

Barberi said plywood will be placed this month around the base of the lighthouse to slow erosion while the engineer develops a long-term plan to put the lighthouse on a firm foundation. And that solution won't be easy.

The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. But it is on land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM land is home to sensitive bluffs, dunes, native plants and Island Marble butterfly habitat.

So not only is a year's worth of permit applications expected in order to satisfy BLM requirements, the sensitivity of the area will require that equipment be carried in. According to the engineer, the ideal solution would be to lift the lighthouse with jacks, put a new concrete foundation under it — the concrete would have to be helicoptered in — and put a boardwalk around the lighthouse to minimize the impact of foot traffic from visitors.

But that solution is not — no pun intended — set in concrete.

Time is of the essence. The plywood barrier around the foundation of the lighthouse will buy the Coast Guard enough time to come up with a plan, get the required permits and carry out the repairs. A new concrete foundation would extend the lighthouse's life by 100 years, the engineer said.

Those repairs can't come soon enough for neighbors.

"It's definitely on its way out," said Anne Haskins, who lives within sight of the landmark. "It's definitely going to go over. I sure hope they fix it."

Haskins said the lighthouse is not only a part of the landscape — it's a part of island life, a part of memories of walks with her children while they were growing up.

"It's always been there. It's a part of this end of the island and a symbol of Cattle Point. I would hate to see it go to waste and fall down."

Situated on a sandy bluff at the entrance to Cattle Pass and San Juan Channel, Cattle Point Lighthouse is as much a part of the island's maritime history as it is the breathtaking beauty of the point.

But wind has eroded sand from beneath a portion of the 75-year-old structure and concrete has broken away from the foundation. Former county fire marshal Rick Galer submitted a photo to the Coast Guard in July 2009, showing what he estimates is 25 percent of the footing exposed due to wind erosion.

"I hope something can be done to save Cattle Point Lighthouse," Galer wrote July 12, 2009.

Cattle Point's first light was a lens lantern on a post erected in 1888. In 1921, the U.S. Navy installed a radio compass station, which has been restored for an interpretive center; that building and grounds are now owned and maintained by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The 34-foot, octagonal, concrete lighthouse was built in 1935 and since then has been a safeguard for vessels transiting the channel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse is now maintained by the Coast Guard as an aid to navigation. The lighthouse is a periodic wedding venue and was the backdrop for a 1984 television commercial.

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