There is bad news and good news at the Barrier Island Parks Society (BIPS) regarding damages from Hurricane Ian.
Initial assessments have been completed on the BIPS properties, and there is plenty of bad news: Significant damage was found on all its historic structures: the Amory Memorial Chapel, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and the Assistant Lightkeeper’s Quarters, and the Gasparilla Lighthouse. There was roof damage, water damage and structural damage, according to Sharon McKenzie, BIPS executive director. The retail shop at Cayo Costa also was seriously damaged. That shop helps support other BPIS facilities and programs.
The good news is that the State Parks Department has been working with BIPS and will continue to help bring the facilities back into use. “The State has been really great, helping us deal with the impact of the disaster,” McKenzie said. In addition, while the Coast Guard will not be able to help with the Gasparilla Lighthouse, the Florida Lighthouse Association has provided funds to hire an architecht and an engineer to determine what needs to be done to reestablish the stability of the landmark.
McKenzie said neither lighthouse will be open to the public for an indefinite period – “maybe not at all this Season,” she said. “A lot will have to do with funding. The damage at Cayo Costa may keep the park closed for a year or more.”
The details of what needs to be done to bring them back to useable structures is still to be determined. She noted that they will have to be rebuilt according to state historic standards, as well, which may add to the costs. “But these are all Island icons. People love them, and people can be assured that we will rebuild. Our goal is to do it, and do it as quickly and safely as possible. Now, we are still in the assessment stage,” McKenzie said, “along with stabilization and mold mitigation.”
Making things more difficult is the fact that the staff must work from home, since the BIPS office is normally inside the Amory Memorial Chapel. Because of the damage, they cannot work there. As a result of the condition of the structures and the lack of adequate workspace, McKenzie said all programs and events planned for the near future will be “postponed…we are not cancelling, just postponing,” she said.
While McKenzie’s focus is on the historical structures and the parks on the barrier islands, she recognizes the difficulty so many are experiencing as a result of the hurricane. “Our hearts go out to all of those who have lost their homes, including some of our rangers and other staff. We have a donate button on our web page that is raising money to help those who have lost their homes and been devastated by the storm.”
She remarked how depressing the losses can make people feel, but “the light in all this is the way this community comes together, even when we are just commiserating together, we are united in supporting one another. We are Boca Strong – we have overcome other things and we will overcome this!”