After months of preparation, workers are ready to move the Gay Head Lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard away from its spot above the picturesque cliffs of Aquinnah. The lighthouse has been in the same location since 1856, serving as a crucial navigation aid for local mariners. But the cliffs are eroding, leaving the lighthouse a mere 46 feet from the edge. On Thursday the Gay Head Light begins a slow-motion journey to a new, safer home.
The move is a highly sophisticated operation costing upwards of 3-million dollars. But despite its complexity, things have gone more smoothly than expected, including excavating the clay around the base of the lighthouse, which proved easier than expected.
"The schedule has not been accelerated by design," said project manager Rick Pomroy. "It’s just by virtue of good weather and very cooperative contractors and a well-coordinated process."
The move itself involves a complex system of hydraulics, with the lighthouse mounted on rails. The 400-ton brick structure will be pushed along the rails by pistons at a painstakingly slow rate of just a few feet per hour.
"All the while, all of the hydraulics and gauges are monitored for the level, and making sure the lighthouse stays stable," Pomroy said.
If all goes according to plan, by Saturday, the Gay Head Light will be sitting above its new foundation 134 feet away, safely back from the eroding cliffs.