Digest>Archives> October 2010

Wickie’s Wisdom

It’s A Strange, Strange World

By Timothy Harrison

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The privately owned North Manitou Island ...

Based on the success of the Maine Lights Program, which concluded in 1998 with the transfer of over 30 Maine lighthouses from Coast Guard ownership to other governmental and nonprofit organizations, the Federal Government passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The new federal law was designed to give lighthouses away for free to local communities, other governmental agencies and to qualified nonprofits. The law was specifically designed to give a nonprofit equal footing when applying for ownership of a lighthouse that a local community might also want to own. Then, as a last resort, if no one wanted a lighthouse, it would go up for auction.

I doubt that the Coast Guard and even the feds could have dreamed back then that so many communities and local governments, and even nonprofit groups, would decline, or in my opinion more aptly stated, with their small minds, refuse to take free ownership of a lighthouse, especially those that could easily be maintained and restored as tourist attractions and likely become self-supporting entities. All they had to do was look around the country or read some back issues of Lighthouse Digest and see the many amazing restoration projects at lighthouses that have been successfully carried out by small groups.

Last month we mentioned a number of lighthouse that were up for grabs, one of those being Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse in Maine, which even the American Lighthouse Foundation backed away from at about the same time they took on Whaleback Lighthouse, which interestingly is a beacon that has many similarities to Ram Island Ledge Light. Although the community of Cape Elizabeth, Maine nor any nonprofit wanted it, four bidders had no problem driving the price up to $180,000. One individual was asking the public for donations of $49 to $1,000, to own part of the lighthouse, to help him finance the private purchase. One person said he would like to buy the lighthouse, fix it up, and then give it as a gift to a nonprofit, which made absolutely no sense at all. If it were that easy, he could have pledged the money to a nonprofit that originally could have obtained ownership of the lighthouse for free.

There are so many lighthouses being auctioned off, and so fast, it will soon change the entire scope of lighthouse history and preservation as we know it for all future generations. Some lighthouses up for auction as we went to press were Kenosha North Pierhead Light, Wisconsin; West Bank Light, New York; Marcus Hook Light Station Delaware; Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Lighthouse in Ohio, (Wickie’s Wisdom Sept. 2010); Old Orchard Light, New York; and Cleveland Ledge Light in Massachusetts, also written about in last month’s issue. Latimer Reef Lighthouse in New York just sold for $225,000 to a private individual. Just think, if he had given that money to a nonprofit to fix up the lighthouse that a nonprofit originally could have received for free, how much further along they would be by now!

Some of the lighthouses mentioned previously should have been taken over by communities and nonprofits. But, unfortunately, those communities and their local nonprofits are not driven by the type of individuals who helped make this country great. Nor do they possess the characteristic qualities of the individuals who do manage other communities and nonprofits who have taken ownership of lighthouses. Those communities and nonprofits have had the foresight to take the risks to acquire ownership of the lighthouses in their area, all for the good of the general public for this generation as well as future generations.

Private ownership may work for some lighthouses; however, mark my words, the day will come when many of these privately owned lighthouses will fall into disrepair and the situation will be much more serious than it would have been if they had been cared for by nonprofits and local communities.

That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.

This story appeared in the October 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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