Digest>Archives> September 2003

Suit Filed to Conserve Squirrel Point Light for the Public Benefit


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Photo by: Mark & Patti Hatch

Citizens for Squirrel Point, a Maine nonprofit corporation, filed suit today in Federal District Court seeking declaratory judgment that title to Squirrel Point Light, a National Register Historic property in Arrowsic, Maine, has reverted to the U.S. Government. Citizens for Squirrel Point’s suit claims that Squirrel Point Light has not been used and maintained in accord with its deed and that it must be reallocated to an appropriate stewardship organization under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Squirrel Point’s deed requires that in the event of noncompliance with its covenants the property shall automatically and immediately revert to the U.S. Government.

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The deed to Squirrel Point Light, consisting of the light tower, keeper’s house, and outbuildings on 4.5 waterfront acres overlooking the Kennebec River, was given by the Federal government, gratis, to an organization named Squirrel Point Associates in 1998, under deed restrictions requiring that the Squirrel Point property be “used for educational, historic, recreational, cultural and wildlife conservation programs for the general public” and “maintained in a manner consistent with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966”. The suit offers evidence that no such educational and other public programs were ever developed or put in place at Squirrel Point. Maine’s State Historic Preservation Officer issued a report in October 2002 explicitly finding that Squirrel Point Associates has been continually out of compliance with the historic preservation covenants of the deed since it was given the property in 1998. In early July, the Coast Guard announced that it had begun proceedings to revert the deed to the federal government. However, the Coast Guard reversed its position when the property went under contract for sale to a private buyer, retired Navy Rear Admiral Leonard Picotte of Virginia, who intends to use the property as a seasonal residence. On July 29, the Coast Guard promulgated an amendment to Squirrel Point’s deed that would allow its use as residential real estate and limit historic open public access to one scheduled visit per month. Coast Guard Commander Thomas Jones stated that “the reason for the addendum is that the property is currently under sales agreement to be transferred to a new owner”. Citizens for Squirrel Point’s complaint claims, in addition, that this amendment to the deed is beyond the Coast Guard’s authority.

“The 1998 Act of Congress which granted Squirrel Point Light to Squirrel Point Associates states that ‘the property in its entirety must be used as a nonprofit center for the preservation of maritime history’,” said Lee Johnson, President of Citizens for Squirrel Point. “The explicit intent of Maine Lights and the NHLPA was to make the exchange, on behalf of the public and future generations, that these historic landmarks be preserved in perpetuity by nonprofit organizations dedicated to caring for them and to developing programs to benefit the public. That’s why they were granted for free. They become, in effect, a part of our National Parks system, which currently administers the NHLPA. We believe a court will agree that the Coast Guard cannot subvert the intent of Congress.”

Squirrel Point Associates has placed Squirrel Point Light on the market as residential real estate three times, beginning less than a year after it acquired the deed in 1998, at asking prices ranging from $500,000 to $375,000. “We have put the current buyers and the seller’s broker, Roy Farmer of Wiscasset, on notice that in our opinion Squirrel Point Associates no longer holds title to the property and therefore has nothing to sell,” said Lee Johnson. “The circumstances of the original grant of the deed to Squirrel Point Associates, whom we do not believe was the best qualified organization to apply for the property under the original program, and of the Coast Guard’s current sudden willingness to rewrite the existing deed to facilitate its transfer to a private buyer who happens to be a retired Navy Admiral, certainly carries at least the appearance of impropriety and deserves public scrutiny. Those who live here can tell you that Squirrel Point is visited daily by out-of-state tourists, in state visitors, and local residents who enjoy this piece of maritime history and the 340 acres of conservation land surrounding it. It is part of Maine’s public heritage and a reason why people come here to visit and to live. Our lighthouses were built and maintained with public funds. If the current buyers proceed to pay Squirrel Point Associates for a deed which may be found under judicial review not to belong to Squirrel Point Associates, that’s between SPA and the buyers. We believe there’s ample evidence that the deed now belongs to the U.S. government, and it should be reallocated to a qualified nonprofit organization under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.”

Citizens for Squirrel Point was formed in April of this year to ensure that Squirrel Point Light in Arrowsic, Maine is used and maintained in accordance with the terms of Federal law, State law, local law, and the covenants in its 1998 deed from the U.S. Government to preserve the lighthouse property for the public benefit. It is represented on a pro bono basis by Verrill & Dana of Portland with Christopher Neagle serving as lead attorney.

This story appeared in the September 2003 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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