MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP — The clock is ticking for the historic East Point Lighthouse, with its iconic red roof and green shutters.

A series of nor’easters each spring threatens the 169-year-old lighthouse, which sits a few hundred feet from the Delaware Bay in Cumberland County.

On Saturday, dozens of people gathered on the sand outside to urge the state Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a permanent plan to protect the lighthouse from coastal erosion. The state agency owns the land, but the historical society has managed it since 1971.

“We’ve just been putting a Band-Aid over the problem,” said Nancy Patterson, president of the local historical society. “Meanwhile the lighthouse sits on the edge of disaster.”

In March, the DEP and the township helped place about 50 giant sandbags at the base of New Jersey’s second-oldest lighthouse after a temporary dune washed away.

But it was a short-term solution.

Now, Patterson said, the sand bags are once again breaking and the lighthouse is vulnerable to the elements. During high tide, she said, water seeps into the basement and two large pumps work to fend off flooding. Meanwhile, the state has not presented a plan to prevent flooding in the long run.

“Our hands are tied,” she said.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said that next week, the agency is meeting with the historical society to discuss long-term strategies for protecting the lighthouse.

He said the DEP in the meantime plans to place additional sandbags around the lighthouse prior to the winter storm season.

“We certainly appreciate the historic significance of the lighthouse,” Hajna said. “It’s truly an icon of the Delaware Bay region.”

Built in 1849, the lighthouse was originally designed to guide fishermen and boaters to the mouth of the Maurice River. It was deeded to the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife in 1956 but taken over by the historical society 15 years later due to damage from vandalism and weather.

A number of stakeholders have recently turned their attention to the dangerously exposed lighthouse.

Last year, a $650,000 restoration project wrapped up, funded by the federal government and the state’s Historic Trust Fund. The exterior was repainted and the walls inside repaired, in addition to more modern upgrades that added cameras on the light cupola.

And more recently, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation sold 8.8 acres along the bay to the state for $8,600 to provide more access, and hopefully greater protection, to the aging building.

But to keep the lighthouse safe from waves, Patterson and the 40 protesters said the state needs to build either a sea wall or bulkhead.

“East Point doesn’t have forever,” Patterson said. “We’re just trying to be the squeaky wheel to get something done.”

Contact: 609-272-7258 Twitter @AvalonZoppo

Staff Writer

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