High Bids Force Cana Island Rethink

Bids for the Cana Island Lighthouse restoration project came in so high that the county’s Airport & Parks Committee, which has oversight of the project, has decided to commence with the outside work to protect the lighthouse tower and keeper’s buildings and leave the interior work for a later date, that is with the approval from funding sources to split the project up.

“We want to check with those grant sources to make sure they are comfortable if we split it up to an exterior/interior phase of the project and changing the scope of work, I guess is what it boils down to,” Parks Director Erik Aleson told the committee at its June 18 meeting. “We need their approval or acceptance of that.”

Aleson said the bids came in “way above the historic structure report estimated in 2009.”

“We’re certainly disappointed with the response we got,” he said. “Right now we have funding through grants and donations. Basically, with all the funding sources we have enough to cover the exterior part of the work.”

He said those grants and donations add up to close to $1 million, which was originally intended for the entire restoration project. Now, he said, the final tab looks like it might be closer to $1.8 million.

Project manager Howard Immel Inc. of Green Bay submitted bids in the amount of $874,791 for the outside construction work.

“Markets have certainly changed a lot in the last four or five years,” Aleson said, regarding the difference in project costs from 2009 to today.

He also alluded to contractors having more work now than they did just a year ago when bids were put out and the county would receive a dozen bids for some categories, whereas with the latest component of the project, “and now we’re struggling to get two or three bids for some of the better categories,” Aleson said. “That’s part of the reality we’re dealing with right now.”

“This constitutes about half of the work of the project,” said Trudy Herbst, development director of the Door County Maritime Museum, which is a partner with the county in the restoration project. “It’s for the exterior of the keeper’s house and the tower only, but it’s protecting the shell of the properties. We can always do the interiors later. You want to make sure the exteriors are sound.”

She added that it is entirely possible that the funding sources won’t approve of the split.

“We may have to give those funds back,” she said.

Aleson said they hope to have an answer for the funding sources by July 7.

County Board Chairman Dan Austad was in the audience for the Parks & Airport Committee meeting, and had the final word on the subject:  “I think it pays to mention, so far, no tax levy dollars have been spent on any of this. When we took Cana Island, I think we did it with the idea that tax levy dollars weren’t going to be spent. I think that’s just an important thing to keep reminding everybody. It really is all donations and grants, user fees. All kinds of stuff.”

To make a donation for the preservation effort, Illuminating Our Heritage, call the Door County Maritime Museum at 920.743.5958 or visit