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Lighthouse set for demolition


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A 76-year-old lighthouse on the North Kohala Coast of the Big Island is slated to be torn down by the end of the year.

The Kauhola Point Lighthouse sits on a rapidly eroding cliff and has become a safety hazard, the Coast Guard said.

Some are sad the lighthouse will be removed from the scenic coastline.

“;It would be like losing an old friend,”; said Billy Wong, who owns and operates ATV Outfitters Hawaii, which offers tours that include a bird's-eye view of the lighthouse. “;It's a historical part of Kauhola.”;

Work is currently being done to prepare for demolition, according to Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen. Last month, contractors installed a stainless-steel monopole light to replace the lighthouse, which is no longer operational. The monopole was installed farther back from the cliff's edge.

In 2007 the Coast Guard and the state decided to demolish the 86-foot lighthouse following an engineering report that determined the lighthouse would experience “;structural damage or catastrophic collapse within two to five years,”; according to Lt. Cmdr. Cesar Acosta, commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Civil Engineering Unit Honolulu, in a written statement.

The Coast Guard has overseen navigational aids since the Bureau of Lighthouses was transferred from the Department of Commerce to the Coast Guard in 1939. The Kauhola Point lighthouse was built in March 1933 on a remote peninsula near Keawaeli Bay in North Kohala.

The lighthouse stood about 85 feet from the cliff's edge. But now it stands only 20 feet from the cliff face, thanks to years of erosion and the October 2006 earthquake, which caused a large chunk of cliff to break off.

Acosta warned the lighthouse would eventually fall.

A petition circulated in Kohala asked that the lighthouse be moved 200 feet inland. But the Coast Guard said the move would be too costly and that the ground is not stable enough to conduct that type of work. Estimated costs to relocate the lighthouse were not disclosed.

The Coast Guard considered stabilizing the cliff face and installing rock armor along the shoreline to protect the cliff from further erosion, but that plan also was determined to be too expensive.

The lighthouse is not listed in the state or national historic registry. The Coast Guard, however, joined with the state Historic Preservation Division to preserve lighthouses at Barbers Point and Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai, both of which are similar to the Kauhola Point lighthouse.

A 34-foot wooden tower was first built on the peninsula in 1897. Six years earlier, C.L. Wright, president of the Hawaiian Railroad Co., requested a light be built to warn ships of the dangerous, low-lying reefs.

In 1917 a pyramidal frame tower was constructed to replace the wooden tower, according to Lighthousefriends.com. Funding was later approved to build a permanent concrete lighthouse. More reinforced iron was added to the structure's foundation and openings to protect it from possible earthquakes. Light keepers lived nearby to maintain it until June 1951 when it was switched to commercial power.

Said Steven Tanaka, who made periodic checks of the lighthouse for the past 15 years, “;It's going to be sad to see it go down.”;