Recent hurricanes, a tornado and sea rise have all caused damage to Fort Pulaski, park officials said.
Trees killed by flooding from a faulty ditch and dyke system greet visitors to the national park. There are also portable toilets at the closed visitor’s center due to flood-related septic tank issues, and visitors can see that the fort roof is rolled up and in need of repairs.
The visitor’s center is expected to open with “minimal repairs,” in March, park officials said.
Visitors will also find the park closed any time the tide rises to about 10 feet, causing the road in the park to close.
Congressman Buddy Carter got an up-close look at that damage on Friday and heard from park staff and others about the funding need that Fort Pulaski and other national parks are facing.
Fort Pulaski has about $2.5 million in needed maintenance, Park Supervisor Melissa Memory said.
Infrastructure repairs across all national parks have a $12 million backlog, according to the National Park Service.
Emily Jones with the National Parks Conservation Association told Carter his help is needed.
“Your district is impacted,” Jones said. “We’re counting on you to carry the banner.”
Jones asked for Carter’s support of House Resolution 2584 that would create a national park service fund to deal with the maintenance backlog.
Currently the park service is making what repairs it can from the park service budget, Jones noted.
Carter asked how much in hurricane relief funds the park would be able to use for repairs.
“We haven’t seen specific hurricane relief funds,” Memory said. “We aren’t eligible for FEMA. We have to go through the park service supplemental funding.”
Emily Harte, facility and resource manager at the fort, told Carter the ditch and dyke system at the park is “not working,” leading to standing water and dead trees. She also said the septic system had been inundated and could no longer be used.
Harte said the fort will need help with engineering for the ditch and dyke system in addition to construction. Park staff is also looking at moving the visitor’s center to a less flood prone area of the park to help prevent future flood damage.
“We are flooding in areas where we never flooded before,” Laura Waller, cultural resource specialist for the fort said. She said the park is also aging.
“The newest building (visitor’s center) we have was completed in 1964,” Waller said.
Friends of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse members Harvey Ferrell and Cathy Sakas talked about the need to stabilize the area around the lighthouse.
“She’s starting to show her age; she’s starting to crumble,” Sakas said of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is part of the park at Fort Pulaski.
Sakas said ships’ wakes are causing problems.
“She can’t withstand the assault every day of the huge wake of these ships,” Sakas said. “We want the port to progress and thrive, but we need to mitigate damage.”
Ferrell said the friends group — 12 members strong — has been working the last 14 years with park officials to save the “historical treasure.”
“She’s been in peril for a number of years,” Ferrell said.
The lighthouse was built in 1837, Ferrell said, and has endured storms, hurricanes — and 30 hours of attack in 1862 between and Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War.
Sakas said volunteers placed oyster shells — 800 bags of them — around the base of the lighthouse to add some stability. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers also placed concrete boulders around the property, Ferrell said.
Sara Lane with Visit Tybee and Joe Marinelli with Visit Savannah spoke to the connection of Fort Pulaski and similar sites to tourism.
“Tourism is a big economic driver for both our communities,” Marinelli said. “We have 13.5 million visitors a year that spend $2 billion.”
Lane and Marinelli pointed to a 2016 visitor study that both Tybee and Savannah participated in showing that 32 percent of visitors to Tybee visit Fort Pulaski. For Savannah, the study also ranked visits to landmarks/historic sites at 13 percent of activities and visits to national or state parks came in at 11 percent of visitor activities.
“The National Park system is critical to tourism as a whole,” Marinelli said.
Carter said his Field Representative, Hunter Hall, would come back to the park in the next week or so with some information.
“I will have staff research hurricane relief funds to see if any were “appropriated for parks,” Carter said.
Carter also answered questions about offshore drilling in Georgia and President Donald Trump’s recent controversial comments about immigrants.
“At this point my main focus is that while we are scheduling hearings is that we have one close to the coast,” Carter said.
Carter said the possible energy resources need to be explored.
“We have to have energy independence. It’s important to our national defense. It’s important that we have affordable energy,” Carter said. “But I’m not going to do it at the risk or the cost of doing anything that would hurt our coast.”
Carter said testing does have to occur to find out “what’s out there.”
“We have to make sure it’s not going to do anything to harm our coast.”
When asked if he condemned or agreed with Trump’s questioning of why the country would want immigrants from “s—thole countries,” Carter had no comment.
“I’m not going to comment on any comments made at a meeting I was not in.”