FOLLY BEACH -- More than a decade after Save the Light Inc. launched its ambitious effort to preserve the Morris Island Lighthouse, the most important part of its work is done.
Palmetto Gunite Construction Co. Inc. recently finished a $2 million project to install a new foundation under the 158-foot-tall brick landmark.
Earlier investigations showed that its original wooden pilings were eaten up by small saltwater clams also known as Teredo worms.
The foundation work was wrapped up just as the heart of hurricane season began.
"We feel the foundation is very, very stable right now," said Al Hitchcock, chairman of Save the Light.
The 68 new micropiles, the same sort of foundation installed to preserve Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa, will help the lighthouse weather the next big storm.
Two crews combined to work 13 hours a day, six days a week, to finish the project a month ahead of the Sept. 1 finish date, said Bill Snow, president of Palmetto Gunite.
By the next weekend, waves were throwing foam 40 feet over the walls, he said.
The most challenging part of the construction was transporting the necessary steel, concrete and fresh water to the site. The lighthouse is stranded in the ocean, just off the northern end of Folly Beach.
"It's kind of frustrating, when you're surrounded by ocean to have to stop because you've run out of water," Snow said. But saltwater can't be used with the concrete mix.
Besides installing the pilings, Palmetto Gunite dredged up about 3,000 tons of sand to place within the cofferdam, a steel ring around the lighthouse's base. Work also included installing ground monitors to detect any movement.
The new concrete foundation is not susceptible to Teredo worms, so it could last for many generations. "The lighthouse has been there 130 years with wood piles. It will be there twice that long with these piles," Snow said.
Planning work could begin soon on what sort of cosmetic repairs to do in the next phase. Possibilities include repairing cracks in the masonry, restoring the glass in the beacon and painting the original white and black bands on the outside.
The lighthouse operated from 1876 to 1962.
Save the Light formed more than a decade ago to prevent the landmark from falling into the Atlantic Ocean. The first phase of the foundation work -- sheet piling around a base protected by large granite stones -- was finished in 2008.
Those who gave to receive
Save the Light Inc. has raised much of its money from sales of Morris Island Lighthouse license plates, and it now wants to thank those who have purchased them.
Specifically, the nonprofit group wants to offer license plate holders a complementary one-year membership, a $25 value.
The plates cost $100 more than a standard South Carolina tag, and $92 of that is forwarded to Save the Light. Chairman Al Hitchcock said that amounts to about $40,000 to $45,000 in annual income, "and that, to us, is very significant."
However, the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles won't give the group a listing of those who have bought the plate.
Hitchcock said any license plate holders who would like to accept a year's membership in Save the Light may send their name and address to: Save the Light Inc., P.O. Box 12490, Charleston S.C. 29422.