Digest>Archives> October 2000

Coast Guard Corner

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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(l-r) Mr. John Mauro, First District, Aids to ...

Since 1939 the United States Coast Guard has had the responsibility of managing and maintaining our active lighthouses, and they continue to carry on the tradition of the old Lighthouse Service in addition to their other missions. I have experienced first hand the love that many Coast Guard personnel have for lighthouses and maritime history.

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Harry Duval working on drawings for a lighthouse ...

In July I had a chance to speak with four men who play a major role in the management of lighthouses and other aids to navigation in the Coast Guard’s First District. We met at the Office of Aids to Navigation, First District, on Boston’s waterfront.

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John Mauro reviewing charts for possible changes ...

The interviewees:

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- Captain Blaine Horrocks, Chief of Aids to Navigation and Waterways Management for the First Coast Guard District.

- John Mauro, Chief of Signal Section of the Aids to Navigation Branch, First District.

- Chief Warrant Officer Dave Waldrip, First District Lighthouse Manager.

- Harry Duvall, in charge of lighthouse solarizations and modernizations for CEU (Civil Engineering Unit) Providence.

JD: Can you explain the organization of the aids to navigation in the First District?

Capt. Horrocks: The Coast Guard is divided into regions, or districts. The First Coast Guard District is comprised of the waters of the Northeast U.S., from the Canadian border to Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Authority for the Coast Guard to maintain a system of Aids to Navigation is found in Federal statutes and U. S. Code. Our Headquarters in Washington, D.C. provides programmatic policy that we, here in the First District, translate into a system of aids to support navigation. This system supports both commercial and recreational needs. The system we maintain facilitates coastal navigation, navigation on critical commercial waterways such as rivers and harbors all throughout New England, with New York being one of the busiest harbors in the world, and we also mark some of the waterways that primarily serve recreational boaters, too.

CWO Waldrip: And then it’s broken down into field units — you have cutters, the aids to navigation teams. And those folks actually go out and conduct the work — servicing the buoys, lights and conducting lighthouse inspections.

JD: How many Aids to Navigation teams are there in the First District?

CWO Waldrip: There are a total of ten from Southwest Harbor, ME down to New York Harbor. This includes the two located on the Hudson River in Saugerties, New York, and Station Burlington, Vermont, which has a buoy boat and aids to navigation responsibilities.

Capt. Horrocks: We have a fleet of six buoy tenders and have also assigned some aids to navigation maintenance responsibilities to the fleet of eight 65-foot harbor tugs in the district.

John Mauro: There are about 5,700 aids to navigation in the district.

Harry Duvall: You include spindles, daymarks, unlighted buoys, lighthouses, the whole works.

JD: How has budget affected the management of aids to navigation?

Capt. Horrocks: Let’s go back just a couple of years, and look at the situation the nation faced. We saw and heard about a staggering national debt, a budget crisis where our children and our children’s children would be bearing this phenomenal debt. We concurrently saw efforts to reduce this debt by establishing budget caps and trimming the budgets of agencies. The American people also wanted a government that was smaller and more efficient.

Commensurate with all this, about five years ago, the Coast Guard undertook a major study in which we reorganized and reduced about 10% of our work force. We had a workforce of roughly 40,000 and cut about 4,000 positions from that workforce.

Combine a relatively flat to declining budget, reduced workforce and growing mission base and you can gain a pretty good picture of what we face.

In the area of how that’s effected aids to navigation management, we’ve leveraged technology to meet the challenge of reduced budgets and fewer personnel. The World War II vintage 180-foot seagoing buoy tender had 56 people on it. The new buoy tender has 40. The old coastal buoy tenders had upwards of 30 to 36 people; the new one has 18 people. The new buoy tenders are state of the art vessels with DGPS [Differential Global Positioning System], dynamic position keeping, and other technological advances.

JD: Why doesn’t the Coast Guard’s work with aids to navigation get much attention from the public and media compared to the other missions of the Coast Guard?

Capt. Horrocks: Let’s put it this way. We measure the reliability of our signals, and it’s continuously over 99%. People have come to expect that — it’s when we fail to keep the signals operating that draws public and media attention. The other aspect is that servicing aids to navigation simply isn’t glamorous and lacks the action that is typically associated with other Coast Guard missions such as saving a boater in distress.

CWO Waldrip: You won’t find a young recruit today who joins the Coast Guard and says “I joined to be on a buoy tender.” A lot of them say they join for law enforcement, they joined to jump out of helicopters, they’ll say “I joined to drive rescue boats.” Nobody says they joined for aids to navigation.

What happens is that many of us get into the aids to navigation field, and we never want to get out of it because it is a very rewarding job. Instead of the rescue, which doesn’t happen every day, you work a buoy or a light, and you leave a better product for the mariner. You just feel great about it, and you just feel you’ve done your job.

JD: How important are lighthouses to navigation today?

John Mauro: It’s a debatable issue. As far as my shop is concerned, I’m going to put in a request to do something like the 13th District has done — a coastal waterways analysis. We’ll put out a notice in the Local Notice to Mariners just asking the average mariner how he uses certain lighthouses. I don’t consider landfall lighthouses as important to navigation as they used to be, not with the navigational technology available today such as GPS [Global Positioning System] and DGPS [Differential Global Positioning System]. In some cases where you have some overlap, especially on the Maine coast, there are some lighthouse signals that are just not necessary any more.

JD: So you’re talking about listing a number of lights in the Local Notice to Mariners?

John Mauro: A fair amount of what I would consider the major landfall lights are probably the ones that we would see initially. For example, as you’re coming into Boston, you see Graves and Boston Light. Then you have Deer Island, and you have some others a little further in. I want to take the ones that are basically on the outside, the seacoast, and review them first.

JD: So maybe you don’t need both Graves and Boston Light?

Capt. Horrocks: Or maybe we don’t need them to shine out as far as they do.

Harry Duvall: They don’t have to be 25 mile lights — they could end up being eight mile lights. That would save on our solar package.

John Mauro: We just did that now up in Portland, at Ram Island Ledge Light [near Portland Head Light]. Now, why does Ram Island Ledge need to boom 20 miles when Portland Head Light booms 24 miles?

We put out an initial notice to the mariner saying “Do you guys really need Ram Island Ledge Light beaming 15 or 20 miles?” We said we’re going to reduce the range to about seven miles. We advertised that in the LNM for about six weeks. No response.

CWO Waldrip: The technology today that’s out there is phenomenal. A lot of these boats are just using a laptop computer or an electronic plot charter. It shows you a chart, it shows you where your boat is, where you’ve been. For about $100 you can find your position using a hand held GPS receiver and plot a course. They [lighthouses] are not needed the same way they once were for navigational purposes.

John Mauro: We get caught up in a dilemma a lot of times. We have to balance the needs of the mariner with what the government budget office is saying they’re going to give us. What happens a lot of times is those on the outside in the lighthouse community feel that the Coast Guard doesn’t care. Of course it’s not the case at all. You have to be good stewards of the tax money that you’re given. Anybody who’s in government service should be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money.

Capt. Horrocks: There will be a constant tension between the efficiency and economy of what we are charged to do, what the funded mission is versus historical aspects and preserving maritime heritage, respecting where we came from, and trying to protect those historical artifacts.

The Coast Guard always takes into account our responsibilities for historic preservation. Specific requirements stem from the National Historic Preservation Act, and we work closely with the State’s Historic Preservation Officers in meeting those requirements. Plus, you talk to many Coast Guardsmen, especially those who have been associated with lighthouses, and it’s something that they feel quite strongly about. Lighthouses have the same allure and emotional attachment for Coasties as they do for the cross section of America.

We have a $28 million backlog Coast Guard-wide on validated, verified aids to navigation needs, and here in the First District we have an approximate $120 million backlog on shore facility renovation projects. These are the types of demands that compete against such issues as funding lighthouse preservation.

CWO Waldrip: And that’s why groups like the American Lighthouse Foundation, the U.S. Lighthouse Society, and the Lighthouse Preservation Society are important. They can go out and raise funds. They can publicly solicit donations and put those dollars back into the maintenance of the tower.

And I think that partnership, I like to call it, when we lease or license a light out to a group, is just great for that light. They can put more money into a tower than what we have and ultimately end up with a better looking structure while the Coast Guard can focus on maintaining the signal for the mariner.

Capt. Horrocks: The Coast Guard does what it can where it can. There have been restorations at Cape Elizabeth Light, Prospect Harbor, Point Judith, Pemaquid Point...

JD: How is that done? Where is that money coming from, given the backlog?

John Mauro: Going back to what Captain Horrocks just mentioned, the $120 million shore facility renovation backlog includes lighthouse renovation projects. This year, we had $15 million available to put toward refurbishing of shore structures and a decision was made to put some of those funds toward lighthouse renovation projects.

JD: How do you decide what lighthouse get the funds?

John Mauro: Here in the First District, our planning office hosts a meeting twice a year to discuss distribution of shore facility maintenance dollars. The Civil Engineering Unit in Providence also attends this meeting. The list of prioritized projects from our field commanders is validated and the available funds are applied accordingly.

Harry Duvall: I think Point Judith has been on the backlog for five or eight years. Petit Manan was the same way — there were two separate projects at Petit Manan — that was on the backlog for a long time.

CWO Waldrip: And that’s how many of these projects get completed in the Coast Guard. The Officers in Charge of the Aids to Navigation Teams, Civil Engineer Inspectors or Group Engineering Officers submit a Shore Station Maintenance Request asking that the work be completed and the Group Commander establishes the priority of the projects. There are pages and pages, and about 12% of the list is lighthouse projects. But there are only so many dollars for so many projects.

John Mauro: And we’re competing with the whole Coast Guard, trying to do the same thing at these lighthouses.

Capt. Horrocks: We talked about history and we said how forever we’ll be stretching our dollars to make them go as far as we can. But by the same token, I think that just in the last year and a half we could talk about some tremendous success stories that were done not necessarily accomplished with a lot of dollars, that show that the Coast Guard does understand the importance of the historical aspect of lighthouses.

One that jumps to mind is the Minot Ledge Lightkeepers Memorial. Dave Waldrip was the project manager for the Coast Guard and arranged the platform, the color guard, the program. Mostly on volunteer time, some Coast Guard time.

The Vineyard Sound Lightship bell and memorial project in New Bedford. A behind-the-scenes player, Lieutenant Matt Stuck, was charged with going down and making that happen. Now we have just a tremendous tribute that meets everyone’s broad-based needs.

The Boon Island lens — another example. It didn’t cost us a lot of money, but we put a lot of time and effort into it, trying to resolve conflict and do what was right, which was to put that lens out on display.

Palmer Island Light, down in New Bedford. Palmer Island Light’s lantern room was going to go up without a vent ball, because the town didn’t have one. We had one vent ball up here in storage — we have to replace vent balls every now and then. And we had a mold created. We loaned the city our spare vent ball and the mold so they could have one made. It’s just one more example of how the Coast Guard does understand and appreciate the need to contribute when, where and how it can. Our maritime heritage is important.

John Mauro: We certainly think so. We do it every August 4th — Coast Guard Day. We remember the old Lighthouse Service, the Lifeboat Service, Revenue Cutter Service and so forth. Recruits study Coast Guard history when they attend Recruit Training in Cape May, NJ, when they first come into the Coast Guard. History is important.

JD: Why are lighthouses being solarized?

Capt. Horrocks: Ponder the logistical challenge of bringing 120 volt AC to an island offshore via an electrical submarine cable vs. the challenge of delivering sunlight to that same location. I think that’s a reasonable context to put this in. It makes a lot of sense to harness the energy of the sun, an environmentally friendly source.

We did a cost analysis in the First District. For those 79 off shore lights that will be converted to solar powered systems our economy of savings is $24 or $25 million dollars over the course of a 25 year period.

JD: Has wind power ever been considered for lights?

Harry Duvall: Headquarters has considered that. Apparently the First District had a lot of problems with the blades and ice. We had a light — Cuttyhunk Light used to be wind powered. It had solar as well. It was a skeleton tower. It was the only light we had like that and it was a headquarters experiment.

John Mauro: You know what would be nice? Have all these nonprofit organizations around the country get together, have a meeting and say “we really want to do something about this power issue. We don’t like the looks of the solar panels.” Go to a big company and say, “look, we want you to start working on some alternate fuel cells” or something.

Capt. Horrocks: We don’t stop with solar power. It’s going to continue to be an evolutionary process. In fact just this year the Coast Guard is putting a fuel cell out on a station down in the Mid-Atlantic to test that technology. We also have the LED [light emitting diode] lights, which is another technology.

John Mauro: This year we’re doing tests with LEDs, and we’re putting them out on some of our buoys and we want to put some out on some of the lights. Not the lighthouses.

JD: What do you think is the future of the Coast Guard and lighthouses?

Capt. Horrocks: In the near term, I don’t believe you’ll see any big changes. The Coast Guard will continue to evaluate whether, or what type of signal is required and will make adjustments. I suspect some signals may be discontinued and as we discussed earlier, the intensity and or characteristic of the light may be changed. We’ll continue to employ more cost effective technologies. I would dare say that 10 years from now the Coast Guard will still own a number of the lighthouses — Nobska Point being an example, as well as Owls Head. That’s where we house some of our Coast Guard families.

And the other point is that lighthouses are part of our heritage, and I think the Coast Guard will always have some of the lighthouses as long as there’s any sort of need, simply because it is part of our history and legacy, and they are icons of the Coast Guard.

I believe there will be a continuing call to find ways to transfer or lease them to other organizations that have an interest, that could take over the responsibility of maintaining a historical structure, simply because we’re going to be increasingly hard-pressed to maintain them by ourselves. I think you won’t see anything markedly different; I suspect we’ll continue along the course that has already been plotted.

CWO Waldrip: I just expect the interest in lighthouses to grow once the National Lighthouse Museum opens [on Staten Island, NY]. More and more people will become aware of the lighthouses. This whole thing has grown drastically in the last 10 years, partially through lighthouse tours on boats, and publications. You can’t walk into a gift shop in Maine without seeing lighthouses. I think the interest and love for lighthouses is going to continue to grow, because there’s such a nostalgic presence about them.

John Mauro: And the dialogue [between other organizations and the Coast Guard] is absolutely important. We’re available to discuss changes.

Note: You can access the Local Notice to Mariners for all Coast Guard districts online at www.navcen.uscg.mil/lnm/ For more information on Coast Guard research and development, check www.rdc.uscg.mil

This story appeared in the October 2000 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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