Waterfront residents on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, awoke on an October morning to a heavy mist and a sound they had not heard for three years — the bellowing of the foghorn at the Huntington Lighthouse.
The warning device at the landmark navigation beacon fell silent when the cable bringing electricity from shore failed. The Coast Guard had responded by installing three 28-inch-square temporary solar panels to keep the light shining, but they did not generate enough power for the fog detector and foghorn.
So the Coast Guard Industrial Support Detachment from New Haven came to the 42-foot-high concrete tower and installed two permanent
5-foot-by-42-inch solar panels, replaced three temporary car-style batteries with six larger batteries and rewired the light and foghorn.
The return of the booming foghorn morning was a welcome sound for the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, which has been restoring the 1912 structure for 22 years, boaters who relied on it for navigation and many residents who just like the sound.
“It’s back and we’re very excited,” said lighthouse society president Pamela Setchell. After the foghorn ceased operation, she said, “People complained about it all the time, especially a lot of the baymen.”
But soon after the foghorn was supposedly fixed, it started generating a new set of complaints because it wouldn’t shut up.
After the Coast Guard technicians hooked up and tested the foghorn and then left, the fog detector malfunctioned and the horn began blaring around the clock - every 10 seconds at 122.7 decibels, almost as loud as a commercial jet taking off.
It took the Coast Guard more than five days to get to Huntington to shut the horn off pending repairs, angering residents in the Village of Lloyd Harbor whose homes the horn faces.
“I haven’t slept for five nights,” said resident Jean Zerries.
The Coast Guard said the horn is designed to be heard from at least a half-mile away, but weather conditions — especially wind — can help carry the sound farther. The foghorn last malfunctioned in 1994 and remained on for 41 days until repaired.
The Coast Guard blamed an internal communications glitch for
the 5-day delay between the first complaint and the return of the technicians. The agency’s Sector Long Island Sound also said it now will assign a higher priority to “nuisance problems” that affect neighbors when they decide when to fix ailing equipment, said Chief Tom Sperduto, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Coast Guard officials said they could have responded three days earlier if reports about the problem from residents had been properly forwarded from the Eatons Neck Station to the regional headquarters in New Haven, Conn.
Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Oditt, who oversees the aids-to-navigation team of Sector Long Island Sound, said national Coast Guard policy is that every aid to navigation is scored on its priority and how quickly it must be restored if it malfunctions. The Huntington foghorn was rated to be repaired within 48 hours. But he added that will be re-evaluated because of the annoyance factor for nearby residents.
“We have one lighthouse technician for all of the 22 aids on Long Island Sound,” he said. And because of the poor communication, he was dispatched to perform routine maintenance at the Old Saybrook Lighthouse in eastern Connecticut before he could be rerouted to Huntington.
Setchell said that before the cable failed, the Coast Guard had considered discontinuing the foghorn. And the agency questioned whether it was needed because many boats now have electronic navigation equipment.
But strong support for keeping the foghorn prevailed.
With the foghorn back, Setchell and local boating groups are now focusing on getting a brighter light installed in the lighthouse because the current one is hard to see against the lights on shore.
She said that after installing the new solar panels the Coast Guard changed the type of bulb in the lighthouse in an effort to make it brighter. If that doesn’t work, she said, she’ll organize a petition drive to present signatures to the Coast Guard.
Troy Geiman, head of the agency’s Aids to Navigation Team Long Island Sound, said the light is designed to be seen for 9 miles.
If a lighthouse evaluation the Coast Guard does every four years shows that not to be the case, the Huntington lantern could be upgraded if it is
This story appeared in the
December 2007 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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