East Point Lighthouse for about a hundred years guided Delaware Bay boats from its shoreline location in a remote part of Maurice River Township.
The two-story brick building, taken out of service in the mid-20th century before being reactivated in 1980, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a treasure, but one that doesn’t get many visitors. The nearest tiny town, Heislerville, is a few miles away, and the lighthouse is at the end of a long dead end.
Despite underperforming as a tourist attraction, state and federal governments have poured money into repeatedly repairing East Point Lighthouse and protecting it from the waves and winds of the bay.
In 1994, the cost was modest. The state Department of Transportation provided $184,000 for repairs to the structure. The state Department of Environmental Protection in 2014 authorized $500,000 to block the bay with beach fill and a berm.
Federal and state agencies decided in 2015 to spend about $2.5 million on the lighthouse, with the National Park Service providing $1.9 million for property work and $600,000 from the New Jersey Historic Trust and U.S. Department of Transportation for maintenance on the lighthouse, primarily its exterior.
Other lighthouses weren’t so fortunate in their funding. When Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in North Wildwood needed a $60,000 paint job in 2016, the foundation overseeing that lighthouse couldn’t even get a grant to pay for the paint. Hereford Inlet light did get major funding, however, for restoration.
The berms and dunes the funding created at East Point Lighthouse have all been washed away. This month the DEP started a $650,000 project to temporarily block waves and tide with fabric tubes filled with sand.
Erosion has left the lighthouse 90 feet from the water at high tide, and just 10 yards when there’s a storm.
Spending two-thirds of a million will buy the state time to develop a long-term plan to preserve the lighthouse. State officials and preservationists say even medium-range protection will probably cost more than $3 million.
It’s time to consider moving East Point Lighthouse inland. Whatever the rise in sea level and continued sinking of New Jersey coastal land, it can only put the lighthouse at ever greater risk. Defending the lighthouse and the spending it requires will get harder and harder.
Moving the two-story building can’t be that difficult or expensive. The federal government moved the famous 199-foot Cape Hatteras stone lighthouse — intact and upright! — away from the encroaching sea.
Find a place inland for East Point Lighthouse where it will be protected from erosion and storm. Pick a place where more people will see it and more tourists will visit it.
Leaving it where it is not only guarantees endless imprudent spending, it also leaves the lighthouse vulnerable to a total loss. A hurricane that goes up Delaware Bay could easily destroy it where it stands. Consider moving it while it’s still possible.