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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse May Move Inland

June 22, 1989|From The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In an effort to save the candy-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which has guarded the treacherous coast known as the "graveyard of the Atlantic" for 119 years, the National Park Service Wednesday proposed moving the lighthouse one-half mile inland.

Unless the government acts, officials said, the North Carolina landmark, the tallest lighthouse in the country, will be washed into the ocean.

The Park Service said the $8.7-million proposal to save the 2,800-ton, 208-foot lighthouse by jacking it up and moving it on rails appears to be the best of several proposals to preserve the historic tower.

"We're not going to hold back the sea. . . . We had no choice but to retreat," said Orrin Pilkey, a Duke University geologist and a leading North Carolina environmentalist who is also an authority on beach erosion.

When the lighthouse was opened in 1870, it was 1,500 feet from the ocean, but constant erosion of the Outer Banks has brought the sea within 200 feet of the lighthouse base. That threat has led to a prolonged and celebrated struggle among environmentalists, government officials and Outer Banks residents over how, or whether, to save the tower.

Pilkey has contended that all efforts to stop beach erosion are futile. The latest proposal, subject to review by Park Service officials in Atlanta and congressional approval, was seen as a victory for environmental groups that persuaded the Park Service two years ago to reconsider its endorsement of a plan to build a sea wall around the lighthouse.

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