MADISONVILLE, La. — In this week's Access Code, we explore the 70447 zip code.
Madisonville is a beautiful river town in St. Tammany Parish bordered on the east by the Tchefuncte River, which runs south to Lake Ponchartrain.
One of the town’s neatest amenities is the lighthouse, which is owned by the town and maintained by the Lake Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum.
Although it’s small, Madisonville used to be a very important shipping channel, dating back to the Jahncke shipyard. Later, it was a popular vacation destination. Originally built in 1837, the lighthouse has guided the way.
Museum Executive Director Jim MacPherson, former Director John Ammerman and Board President & Lighthouse Committee Chair Alexis Hocevar took us for a tour.
"It’s a historic treasure from our community. Imagine in the early 1900s who rode by and used it as a marker and we still see it today," Ammerman said.
It’s one of the few lighthouses left in the region still functioning, though boaters have many other navigational tools these days. But, still, residents will tell you - the landmark has historical and emotional value.
"Lighthouse enthusiasts are global and they come from around the world to see the lighthouse. Now right now we have to tell them go to end of main street and look across the cove," MacPherson said.
That's because the only way to get to the lighthouse is by boat, and only then with the right conditions. The road that once led to the lighthouse was a victim of erosion.
And it's more than the road! The lighthouse once marked the curve in the Tchefuncte River where it met the lake. Erosion has removed so much land from the area that the mouth of the river is now a mile or two to the east, leaving the lighthouse unprotected. So the immediate land around the lighthouse is receding.
"Hurricane season's coming. One big storm and we could have a bigger issue," Hocevar said.
That's what happened to the Pass Manchac Lighthouse. Before it could be restored, it was destroyed by Hurricane Issac.
ACCESS CODE: 70448: The Seven Sisters Oak Tree
The Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum maintains the lighthouse. The museum board has put together a committee dedicated to saving the historic landmark. They've narrowed down possible solutions to one that includes putting sheet pile down, adding rock in front of it and fortifying the land. The plans also include rebuilding the pier.
"Plenty of other ideas or concepts on how to protect it. This one is permitted, ready to go and is shovel ready, and if we had funding, we could start tomorrow," Hocevar said.
Sometimes permitting is harder than raising the funds, so they're in good shape.
Now for the money part: The price tag for this solution is $2 million. People have offered to throw fundraisers to help and that's appreciated, but what the committee really needs is help thinking strategically. They believe there's public dollars available for what they want to do.
"The funding's out there what we need to do is find it and then appropriate it but figure out how to do that," Hocevar said.
It's also about making the right connections. The committee has full support of Madisonville's mayor and they've recently established a good relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers.
They also took Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser on this same tour by boat to see the landmark Madisonville is fighting to save.
"This is a pretty unique and historic place and I think the lighthouse defines it,"Hocevar said.
Right now, they're doing all they can to get in front of the right people and gain the public's support. If you can help, call the lake Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum directly.