Lighthouse opened for evaluation
MANISTIQUE – The East Breakwater Lighthouse was opened briefly to the public Monday, as part of its “disposal” process. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the light was tagged for disposal and listed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s Real Property Utilization and Disposal website as an available lighthouse property.
Following a city meeting in June, the light was spared being opened to potential buyers – a risk that could surface again, according to Jeff Shook of Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy. However, since the city opted to work with Shook and express written interest in acquiring the light, for now, it doesn’t have to go to the auction block, he explained.
“The process is, if the lighthouse goes through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, nonprofits, federal departments or agencies, state departments or agencies, counties or local municipalities are the first to be offered the light,” he said. “Manistique, along with the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, submitted the letter of interest to evaluate the opportunity to potentially save and restore the light.”
Since expressing interest, the city and Conservancy were able to schedule a date when the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency that keeps the light operational, would open the structure to them and the public for evaluation.
“It’s a requirement of the disposal of the lighthouse,” Shook explained. “There is only one opportunity to look at the light to make sure that you get a chance to see what you are getting before you begin the process.”
While the GSA and National Park Services representatives are usually on hand for these types of open houses, Shook noted that travel schedules prevented them from attending. Two members of the Coast Guard, as well as an architect and a select few members of the public were present during the opening.
“The architect was there for around three hours taking measurements and documenting the existing condition so we can get a basic understanding of what’s needed to restore the light,” Shook said. “If it’s determined that the city wants to tackle this project, then we will put together the application and submit it to the National Park Service, the GSA, and the State Historic Preservation Office.”
Within the application, the city will need to include the necessary steps to restore the lighthouse, such as fixing the foundation and removing any lead paint and repainting. Along with this list, the city will also need an estimate of the repair costs, and their plan to pay for them. A financial plan for continued maintenance of the light must also be included, said Shook.
“The city could use fundraisers, grants, tours of the light, a direct line item, or a community service group pledge to help financially support the restoration of the light,” he explained. “Some lights you can’t open up to the public, but this one seems feasible to open to the public. The city could use it as a tourist attraction and bring people to the area to climb the tower.”
The application is due in November, added Shook, and, even if the city submits it, the light isn’t guaranteed.
“If they determine the application doesn’t meet their criteria … they can reject the plan and then send notice to the GSA that they have no qualified applicants and to place the light for sale,” he said.
This would be devastating result for the city and its residents, Shook explained, which is why support during the application process is vital.
“Once the community loses its lighthouse, it’s most likely gone forever,” he said. “These things do happen … some of these lights have been sold at auction, and a buyer could buy it and paint it purple if they want. They can do what they want – even move it off the end of the pier to their front yard for preservation.”
Right now, the city has the opportunity to acquire the light for free, paying only to restore the structure, Shook explained. If the light is sold, in order to get it back, the city would have to pay whatever price the seller stipulates – a price they may not be able to afford, he added.
Shook said he expects estimates on the restoration work to be forthcoming in the next week.
“This is a local, community decision; a pride in the community type of thing,” he said. “If the community wants to see their light restored, we’ll need to move forward with the process and produce the proper management plan to get it.”