Written by Walter T. Ham IV
Like the city it proudly serves, the New Canal Lighthouse in New Orleans is a survivor.
Originally built in 1838 for $25,000, the lighthouse had to be rebuilt in 1855 after it started leaning on marshy ground. In 1880 the lighthouse was relocated after a newly constructed yacht club blocked the light.
In 1893 Hurricane Cheniere Caminada hit New Orleans. The lighthouse was not only the lone structure left standing in the area after the hurricane hit, but it also sheltered more than 200 survivors.
Hurricanes pummeled the lighthouse again in 1915, 1926 and 1927. Then it was hit with the double whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that temporarily knocked it out of commission in 2005.
Today, the New Canal Lighthouse is back and shinning over the cradle of the American Energy Renaissance.
The waterways around the light, marked and safeguarded by Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team New Orleans, are the principal conduit for the American Energy Renaissance, which began in 2014 when the United States became the world’s leading producer of oil and gas.
The Gulf Coast region drives the energy economy in the U.S., with more than 130 oil platforms and 6,500 gas and oil wells that generate 23 percent of its domestically produced natural gas and 30 percent of its oil.
Based in New Orleans, the Eighth Coast Guard District spans most of the waterways involved in the energy renaissance, including 26 states from the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest, and manages Aids to Navigation (ATON) in those waters.
The district covers more than 10,000 miles of inland waterways, including the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers, and 900 miles of the Gulf Coast. Two million barrels of oil and 1 million tons of cargo are imported through these waterways daily. The district also includes five of the top seven fishing ports in the United States, accounting for almost 40 percent of the catch.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael P. Bollinger leads Aids to Navigation Team New Orleans.
The team safeguards maritime transportation in this vital region by maintaining 450 aids that mark Louisiana waterways, including the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.
Only a quarter of those aids are on the water. Bollinger said his team uses some unique equipment to maintain the land-based aids.
“We have some pretty cool equipment to work with – from a tractor, skid-steer bobcat, tow-behind field mowers, to an auger and pole truck,” said Bollinger, who is originally from Slidell, Louisiana, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. “We use most of this equipment to clear land and rebuild structures.”
The team’s 450 aids are part of the more than 22,000 navigational aids managed by the Eighth District.
Bollinger said the New Orleans ATON team works long days to maintain the navigational aids that keep vessels moving safely and smoothly through Louisiana’s bayous, lakes, canals and rivers. The team also used to maintain the New Canal Lighthouse.
New Canal Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and is one of nine lighthouses that have an elevator named after them in the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Coast Guard leased the lighthouse to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to repair and maintain as a private Aid to Navigation and museum.
In addition to maintaining more than 48,000 buoys, beacons, ranges, sound signals and electronic aids in the federal ATON system, the Coast Guard provides oversight for more than 45,000 private aids in the United States.
Joann Haydel, the education director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, said 15,000 tourists visit the New Canal Light every year.
Haydel said the lighthouse museum is built 19 feet off the ground for hurricane protection.
In the museum, visitors learn about this legendary Big Easy beacon that has a hard fought history of standing up to hurricanes and living to shine another day.