Digest>Archives> April 2005

Judge Orders Lighthouse Back to Government


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The long-awaited outcome in the legal battle over Maine’s historic Squirrel Point Lighthouse in all likelihood is now over. U.S. Federal District Judge D. Brock Hornby has ruled in favor of Federal Magistrate David Cohen’s recommendation that ownership of Squirrel Point Lighthouse on the Kennebec River should revert back to the federal government.

Under a 1998 Federal Congressional Transfer, the Squirrel Point Lighthouse was given for free to the Squirrel Point Associates, headed by Mike Trenholm, a local real estate person. The deed required that Squirrel Point Associates restore the property and use it as an educational, historic, and cultural site open to the general public. However, when the Squirrel Point Associates put the lighthouse up for sale, asking at one time as much as $500,000 for the property, and NO TRESPASSING signs were posted, the public became infuriated.

Local citizens under the leadership of Lee Johnson, formed a nonprofit, of which our editor was a board member, called Citizens for Squirrel Point, to stop the sale of the lighthouse and to attempt to convince Trenholm to turn the property over to a nonprofit that was better suited to restore and maintain the lighthouse. When that effort failed, the Citizens for Squirrel Point enlisted the help of the Portland, Maine, law firm of Verrill and Dana, which in August 2003 filed a lawsuit in federal court to ensure that the covenants of the deed be enforced.

Litigation partner Scott W. Boak of Verrill and Dana said, in speaking of the landmark ruling, “The decision sends a clear message that if you are going to be given a valuable historical and cultural resource like Squirrel Point Lighthouse by the government for free in exchange for your agreement to preserve and protect that resource, you have to live up to the agreement.”

Citizens for Squirrel Point initially enlisted the help of the law firm of Verrill and Dana because, at the time, the government was extremely slow to react and gave no initial indication of what they were going to do. Finally, in March 2004, probably as a result of the Citizens for Squirrel Point lawsuit, the government joined the action, filing its own separate lawsuit.

According to the Federal Magistrate, Squirrel Point Associates, who obtained the lighthouse from the federal government for free in 1998, failed to comply with the terms of the deed and the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The magistrate concluded in his ruling that these failures triggered reversion clauses in both the federal statute and the deed, effectively transferring ownership of the lighthouse back to the federal government as a matter of law.

Although Trenholm and his Squirrel Point Associates have 60 days to appeal, it is expected the lighthouse will be processed by the General Services Administration through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which will allow any legitimate nonprofit or any state or local government to apply for ownership under the process.

This battle could never have been won if it were not for the efforts of the law firm of Verrill and Dana, One Portland Square,

Portland, Maine 04112.

This story appeared in the April 2005 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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