Lighthouse ‘available’ to entities
MANISTIQUE – The East Breakwater Lighthouse is up for grabs. According to city officials, under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the light was recently put up for “disposal” to eligible entities.
The light is currently listed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s Real Property Utilization and Disposal website as an available lighthouse property. Described as a light with a tower height of 35 feet, the East Breakwater Lighthouse will soon be opened for viewing by potential applicants – unless the city expresses interest.
According to the National Park Service, the NHLPA disposal will involve several agencies: the U.S. Coast Guard, which identifies and reports excess historic lights to the GSA; the GSA, which issues a Notice of Availability to interested parties; the NPS, which evaluates applications from interested parties, then making a recommendation to the GSA.
Those eligible obtain ownership of the light include: any department or agency of the federal government, any department or agency of the state in which the historic light station is located, the local government of the community in which the historic light station is located, nonprofit corporation, educational agency, or community development organization. Any party must comply with conditions set forth in the NHLPA and is financially able to maintain the historic light. Regardless of which party acquires the light, the NHLPA stipulates that the USCG will maintain various easements to the light. If an applicant meets all the criteria, the GSA will transfer, at no cost, ownership of the light.
In Monday’s meeting of the city council, Marilyn Fischer, member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance, which oversees 129 lights across the state, explained the disposal process. She also noted that Manistique would have first grabs at taking ownership of the light, and already have a potential partner – the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.
“It’s the alliance’s job, and it’s also my own job, to make sure that these lighthouses stay in the public’s hands,” she said. “I don’t want to see them, and we don’t want to see them, go into private hands. They should be open to the public.”
By accepting a partnership with the Conservancy, Fischer explained the city would have to also accept financial responsibility for maintenance, renovation and preservation.
They will also have to fill out an approximately 26 page application to apply for ownership.
“It’s not an easy job, dealing with the federal government, as I’m sure you all know, and it’s not an overnight thing,” she said.
In order to raise funds to properly maintain the light, Fischer suggested the city work with the Conservancy to raise funds and possible think of other revenue sources – such as establishing a gift shop near the boardwalk. Since the NPS application stipulates the owner of the lighthouse must open the structure to the public six times a year, she also said the city could charge admission on these days.
Fischer explained she had already contacted the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, and its members have volunteered to open the light on the stipulated days.
“There is a real need for it to be open to the public, and people in your community would love to be able to do it,” she said.
When council members expressed concern at the possible cost of maintaining the light, as well as the break wall, City Manager Sheila Aldrich explained the city would be eligible for grants. She also noted that, for approximately $2,500, the city could hire an engineer to come up with a maintenance plan, as well as a restoration cost estimate. City officials could also look into any additional costs in liability insurance – especially in regard to visitors walking the break wall, she added.
Fischer explained there is no real timeline stipulated for the city to have the restoration done, though the possibility of lead paint and asbestos could cost them more money.
If the city fails to express interest in acquiring the lighthouse, Aldrich said the light would be open for interested parties to view on June 20. She also noted one risk if the light falls in to private hands.
“I understand that they (the owner) could move it, though,” Aldrich said. “You can get permission and someone could actually move it.”
This could prove to be difficult, she noted, since the USCG intends, for now, to keep the light operational.
“I know it’s a symbol of Manistique – hopefully we can keep it,” said Mayor David Peterson. “Can we afford it? That’s the question. Or, can we afford not to?”
Council members unanimously approved to pay $2,500 for the engineering plan, as well as partner with the Conservancy.
“This lighthouse is your logo and you need to keep it in your hands,” said Fischer. “I think you’d be foolish to let it slip out of your hands.”