Panel revisits Trinidad lighthouse options

The Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

TRINIDAD – A preservation committee is considering whether it might be possible to stabilize the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse where it is instead of moving it.

Nothing has been decided, but driving pilings underneath the erosion-threatened structure might turn out to be the cheaper and preferable alternative, because funding prospects are mixed.

The board of the Greater Trinidad Chamber of Commerce voted late last week to support the preservation effort with a $5,000 donation. Chamber officials hope the front money will generate a popular groundswell that matches their contribution dollar for dollar.

Independent of the chamber’s largesse, the Civic Club’s online fundraising site had collected $6,215 as of last Saturday.   

But those preliminary gains are tempered by the fact that no money will be forthcoming from the City of Trinidad, the Humboldt Lodging Alliance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

It could not be learned last week if California’s Office of Emergency Services might furnish state funds to help defray the expense. City Manager Dan Berman did not return repeated phone calls from the Union.   

Next steps hinge on the findings of an SHN Consulting Engineers report commissioned by the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse Preservation Committee, an adjunct of the Trinidad Civic Club.

The pending report, including cost estimates, is supplemental to a prior SHN analysis commissioned by the city council that evaluated reinforcing Edwards Street as well as the lighthouse. The roadway sits above the lighthouse and is at longer-term risk from erosion and landslides (Union, Aug. 8).

With prescriptive assurance, the city council unanimously agreed on July 26 to “fast track” the permitting process for moving the lighthouse.

The consensus last month was that the lighthouse would have to be moved one way or another. At that council meeting, Civic Club President Dana Hope committed her organization in principle to raising some $40-50,000 in seed money.   

Since then, however, the preservation committee, chaired by long-time Trinidad advocate Patti Fleschner, has intervened with the push to find out if moving the lighthouse could be avoided in favor of underpinning it where it is.

Fleschner’s panel met for nearly two and a half hours at mid-week to deliberate construction alternatives and hash out fundraising initiatives.

Afterward, Civic Club President Hope summarized the current state of affairs. “One possibility would be to stabilize [the lighthouse] in place. Another is to move it over on our existing [Civic Club] land toward the [fog] bell, on our 45 by 50 foot plot.” That would not encroach on city property.

Hope added, “We’re waiting on cost estimates either for underpinning it or moving it 10 or 15 feet. Would moving it require dismantling it and reassembling it? Is it possible to move it over and if so, would the top have to be removed, the foundation demolished and then rebuilt? That’s the information we’re waiting for” from the SHN follow-on report.

Unconfirmed cost estimates range from $40,000 to $60,000. The Civic Club’s online funding goal is pegged at $100,000.

Hope pointed out that when SHN made its previous report to the five city council members a month ago, Engineer Gary Simpson emphasized that the farther the lighthouse was moved (if it were), the more lasting its preservation would be.

The advantage of subterranean underpinning is that it probably would be less costly and less disruptive than moving the structure.

Another advantage: Pilings would be invisible from Edwards Street. That would preserve the pristine aesthetic of the lighthouse in situ, as evocative as the maritime paintings of Vernet, Hopper and Winslow Homer.

“Right now,” Hope said, “what we’re being told is it’s [fundraising] all on us, it’s all up to the Civic Club,” which has about 30 active, inactive and lifetime members. “The city will not match or give any funds at all and FEMA will not give any funds, although it will probably help with the expenses the city already incurred with the sidewalks and the handicapped ramps to the lighthouse.”

Those are on city property, not on the club’s lighthouse parcel, and were damaged in the unusually heavy winter rains.      

Other fundraising initiatives were brainstormed at the lengthy Preservation Committee meeting.

One prospect is an art sale at the Trinidad Land Trust, tentatively on Saturday, Nov. 4. The trust and the Civic Club would split the proceeds 50-50.

Another possibility is a collaboration of the Trinidad and Big Lagoon schools, which serve children K-8. Students would participate in field trips to the lighthouse, illustrate their visits with drawings and discuss the significance and importance of lighthouses in civic life, at school and at home. Further, the Civic Club is consulting with the Trinidad Library about designating either October or November as “Lighthouse Month,” to build public awareness of the structure’s historical and cultural value to the North Coast.

The library would host books and displays devoted to lighthouses, to honor the memory of those lost and buried at sea.


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