Funding key to saving Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse

May 31, 2024

For nearly 100 years, the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse has served as an aid to mariners entering Delaware Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Situated on a 7,950-foot breakwater, the lighthouse along with the 4,500-foot inner breakwater forms the National Harbor of Refuge, which has provided safe harbor for countless ships.

But the fate of the historic beacon is in jeopardy, as storms, waves and swift currents have eroded the protective breakwater around the lighthouse to the point where it is unsafe to be on either structure.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the popular summer tours sponsored by the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation are no longer allowed. The tours, which helped raise awareness and funds, had been ongoing for nearly two decades.

The foundation owns and maintains the lighthouse while the Army Corps maintains the breakwater.

Money has been hard to come by for doing work on the breakwater, with only $3.5 million allocated over the past 15 years. The estimated cost for work to restore the breakwater and the protective rocks around the lighthouse base could run as high as $100 million.

The project is in competition with maritime infrastructure projects across the nation, so it seems highly unlikely these efforts will be funded.

Other options – including actually moving the lighthouse – are on the table.

In the meantime, the foundation is evaluating its own fate. The organization will carry on with the upkeep work until it becomes financially prohibitive.

William “Red” Moulinier, who has devoted years to working on the lighthouse, said members plan to continue doing maintenance until 2026, the light’s 100th anniversary, and then reevaluate what direction the foundation will take.

The beacon is not in danger of falling into the sea, which was the fate of the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse in 1926.

Money is the key to the ultimate fate of the structure, and without a major influx of funding, the huge white lighthouse’s future as a Delaware icon is uncertain.

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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