Digest>Archives> February 1997

Maine Lights Program Underway

Do new Committee Members know Maine's lighthouses?

By Timothy Harrison


With the appointment of Anne Webster-Wallace as its new Director, The Maine Lights Program, in which nearly 40 lighthouses in Maine will be transferred to local communities and historical societies, has officially started its two year process.

Under the new Federal Law the Maine Lights Program must transfer ownership of the lighthouses within the two year specified time limit. The program is administered under the umbrella of the Island Institute, a non profit group based Rockland, Maine.

Anne-Webster Wallace, the Plan's newly appointed director is the former president of the Friends of Seguin Island and is largely credited with saving the lighthouse and creating a large active all volunteer group that oversees the uninhabited remote island and its historic lighthouse.

The Secretary of Transportation of the United States has appointed the following people to the selection committee: Rear Admiral Richard I Rybacki (USCG Ret) as the Committees chairman; Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.(Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission); Stan Skutek (Refuge Manager, Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge); Renny Stackpole (Director, Penobscot Marine Museum), and Susan Lessard (Vinalhaven Town Manager).

The first meeting of the committee was held in Augusta Maine on January 27th at which time preliminary and organizational matters were discussed.

I congratulate Anne Webster-Wallace on her appointment as the Director of the Maine Lights Program. Anne is certainly knowledgeable about lighthouses and is certainly qualified to do the job.

However, I must question those appointed to the Maine Lighthouse Selection Committee by the United States Secretary of Transportation. . . .

Rear Admiral Richard I. Rybacki (USCG Ret) was closely involved with the Lightship Nantucket #112 which for a while was berthed in Portland, Maine as a floating museum. The affairs of the lightship were handled poorly to say the least and the Lightship was eventually lost to the Intrepid Museum in New York.

Although I don't know Susan Lessard, Town Manager of Vinalhaven, it would certainly appear that her interest are self serving since she lives in Brown's Head Lighthouse which is currently leased to the town of Vinalhaven by the United States Coast Guard. Although the law states that "one member shall be appointed from among individuals recommended by officials of local governments of the municipalities in which the lighthouses are located," I don't think it was actually intended for someone who actually lives in one of the lighthouses which will be transferred.

I will also admit that I don't know Stan Skutek of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. I am sure he is a competent Director of the Refuge and knowledgeable in his field. However, I would be curious to know how much Skutek knows about Maine's lighthouse, their history and the importance to the area they serve.

Just why Renny Stackpole of the Penobscot Marine Museum was picked is another puzzling question, although, certainly within the scope of the law that says "one member must come from individuals . . . that are concerned with lighthouse preservation or maritime heritage matters." This is where I disagree with the law, the words 'maritime heritage' are too wide in scope). Although the Penobscot Marine Museum is certainly a premier museum, it is much more about ships than lighthouses. Although ships and lighthouses go together, I would be curious to know what the museum has done to preserve Maine's lighthouses and their history. In looking at their brochure they make no mention of lighthouses.

Earle Shettleworth Jr. was appointed by default, since the law states "one member shall be the State Historic Preservation Officer of the State of Maine, with the consent of that official, or a designee of that official."

I wonder how many of the Selection Committee hold membership in the United State Lighthouse Society, or The Lighthouse Preservation Society. I can tell you for a fact that none of them hold membership in the New England Lighthouse Foundation nor have any of them attended any of the NELF meetings or conventions. The Penobscot Marine Museum does hold a membership in the New England Lighthouse Foundation. However, this membership was complimentary, sent to them in hopes that they might become involved with the New England Lighthouse Foundation's efforts to preserve the region's lighthouse history and heritage.

Perhaps more logical choices would have been someone from the history department of a college or university.

What really amazes me is why Ken Black, Founder and Director of the Shore Village Museum in Rockland was not chosen for the committee. The museum which he founded, has more lighthouse artifacts and memorabilia than anywhere else in Maine and probably the nation. He has done more to save Maine's lighthouse history and arifacts than all the members of this committee combined. He certainly knows more about lighthouse history than most people alive today.

I wish the Maine Lighthouse Selection Committee the very best and trust they will do an excellent job. The future of many of Maine's lighthouses and for some communities, economic benefits from tourism, rests with their final decisions. What I question is, why they got appointed.

This story appeared in the February 1997 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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