BY JACK SHORT – The Barrier Island Parks Society has formally undertaken the Range Light restoration, though the preparatory process goes back several years.
At their meeting on Wednesday, March 11, board member Jim Grant read portions of letters from Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to the United States Coast Guard and to BIPS.
BIPS had been reluctant to move forward with fundraising until some lease agreement was presented. Initially, the DEP was to annex the structure as well as the 7.4 acres on which it stands, but backed away earlier this year due to funding concerns. Because the legislation that authorizes BIPS, a citizen support organization to the state parks, restricts what kind of activities it can undertake, some were hesitant about moving forward without the state parks’ involvement.
Mark Hetzner, board member, worried that money spent on anything other than the state parks might endanger BIPS’ charter, which is why the letters from the DEP were crucial, according to Grant.
In the letter to BIPS, Forgione said he was pleased to learn that BIPS will lease the land directly from the United States Coast Guard and that the agreement and any related activity or restoration would constitute authorized activity under BIPS’ charter.
The letter included a request that BIPS keep separate accounts of income and expenditures related to the Range Light to assure funds would not be intermingled with funds that support state parks.
Forgione also noted in the letter that because the land and structure were leased without the DEP’s involvement, volunteers would not be covered by state Workers’ Comp or governmental liability insurance.
Grant added that the land would, over the course of a few years, be transferred to the Bureau of Land Management, who said they would then lease it to BIPS with a “nominal” sharing of revenues that accrue from Range Light activity.
Grant said they will use BLM guidelines to determine how to maintain the property, and that, with regard to the Range Light itself, the goal was to “put it back together the way it was in 1927 and keep it that way … ”
After the motion was made and adopted to formally undertake the project, Pete Roberts, president of BIPS, said, “It’s a big step. 12 to 15 years of work have come to this point.”
The Coast Guard has issued a statutory 60-day notice, notifying the public that it plans to issue a new five-year lease of the property so interested parties may apply.
During the meeting, BIPS board members were assured BIPS was “first in line” because of its history with the project and the structure.