Army Corps: No more lighthouse tours

Cost may be prohibitive to provide needed repairs to damaged protective breakwater
May 31, 2024

With an estimated $100 million price tag to secure the protective breakwater, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at other options to save the historic Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse off the Point of Cape Henlopen State Park. The cost is more than 950% of what the Army Corps has spent on the breakwater the past two decades.

Swift currents, wave action and storms have wrecked havoc on the protective stone breakwater around the lighthouse. Dozens of 10-ton rocks have been lodged out of place and sunk to the Delaware Bay floor.

Because of the damage, it appears public tours of the lighthouse will not occur again.

The historic lighthouse sits on the southern end of the Delaware Breakwater and has served as an aid to navigation since 1926. It was automated in 1973 after nearly 50 years of tenders living on the lighthouse in rotating shifts.

The depth around the breakwater and the lighthouse was 50 feet in 1926; the latest depth in 2022 was 123 feet due to scouring.

No more tours

During a May 17 tour, William “Red” Moulinier of the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation said Dan Kelly, Army Corps Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse project manager, told him it’s not safe to have the public at the lighthouse.

“I got the impression that tours probably won’t happen ever again. I don't believe they will ever be able to secure the funds to do this project. There are too many other projects such as beach replenishment that take priority,” said Moulinier, who has led the lighthouse restoration efforts. “I believe the public tours are a thing of the past. If the Army Corps decided to let us start the tours again, they said the liability insurance would be unattainable.”

“This is not a very good forecast for the foundation,” he said. “We will continue to do our maintenance on Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse until it is financially prohibitive. We plan to continue until 2026, when Harbor of Refuge will celebrate its 100th birthday. We will reevaluate after that milestone which direction we move.”

The foundation owns the lighthouse, and the Army Corps is responsible for the breakwater. 

The Harbor of Refuge Breakwater and Lighthouse are both listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Army Corps report

A recent Army Corps major maintenance report included information from studies and on-site inspections regarding possible work to repair the damage and secure the breakwater, along with estimated costs.

Other options, such as removing the lighthouse, have also been discussed.

The detailed report provided two alternatives, with cost estimates of $91 million to $123 million.

The Harbor of Refuge complex has received $3.4 million for repairs and work over the past 12 years.

Another alternative includes repair of the capstone around the lighthouse and restoration of the sides of the breakwater with stone fill and stone-filled mattresses, which are large composite bags filled with stone, dropped to the sea floor and integrated with the existing stones on the breakwater. The mattresses have a variety of marine applications including erosion control and scouring protection.

GPS to be installed

Army Corps staff plans to install a solar-powered GPS monitor on the lighthouse to detect any movement of the historic structure.

While in the lighthouse, they scoped out possible locations to mount their equipment.

The project will be a joint effort by the Army Corps and U.S. Coast Guard.


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