2012-11-15 / Front Page

Should it stay or go?

City will soon consider keeping East Breakwater Lighthouse

MANISTIQUE – The city will soon consider whether it wants to proceed with an application process to obtain the East Breakwater Lighthouse. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, members discussed the possible implications of taking over the light, as well as receiving public input on the matter.

Earlier this year, the lighthouse 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. This was done under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which stipulates the process of disposal.

According to the act, those eligible to obtain ownership of the light, free of charge, are: 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.

To be approved to obtain the light, an entity must submit an application detailing their plan to update and maintain the structure. In June, the Manistique City Council voted to spend approximately $2,500 to finance an engineering plan and to partner with the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy to work on the application.

Sanders and Czapski Associates, architecture/historic preservation firm, estimated the cost of bringing the lighthouse up to the NHLPA requirements in August. In October, they released their report, noting the city could expect to pay $155,000 for the update. Jeff Shook, of the MLC, at that time noted the city would have to commit to this amount before the organization could move forward with the application.

On Tuesday, City Manager Sheila Aldrich explained she had received an email from Shook reminding the city they had to commit to a financial planning document before the application could be submitted. In the email, Shook noted the final engineering estimate for the lighthouse was approximately $266,000, and that the document splits this amount into payments over four years.

According to Aldrich, in the first year, the city would pay $28,400; the second year, $42,050; the third year, $41,500; and the fourth year, $81,550.

“Some of it could come back through donations, fundraising, grants, but we would have to make that commitment,” she said. “They (the MLC) need some information and some action from us and relatively quickly.”

Approval of the financial planning document is step one, said Aldrich, and if the city does not want to make the commitment, the MLC would then spend no more time or resources on the extensive application.

“It’s going to be very time consuming to do the rest of this – it’s like 27 pages,” she said. “This is step one.”

Mayor David Peterson noted there was still too much confusion about who was filling out the application, if the city would actually be able to afford to take over the light, who owns the breakwall, and the liability of opening the light to the public.

“When this was presented to us … it was that this group was going to do all the paperwork and fill out the application,” he said. “Apparently, that’s not the case now.”

He added he was unsure as to what would happen to the light if no entity claims it and it went on to a public auction.

“If we don’t do it, they say that it’s going up for public bid,” he said. “The question we got out there is, do the people that buy it have to do these same commitments? And we don’t know the answer to that.”

According to the NHLP, the light includes the light tower, lighthouse, keepers dwelling, garages, storage sheds, oil house, fog signal building, boathouse, barn, pump house, tram house support structures, piers, and walkways. The act also states that, if the light fails to be disposed to an eligible entity, it will be placed on public auction.

If it is purchased during the auction, the act stipulates the buyer will have to adhere to most of the requirements as the entity would have, including keeping the light operational and accessible to the United States Coast Guard. Changes to the light could be made, but these would have to be federally approved. If a light is no longer needed by the USCG, changes could be made.

During discussion, Councilperson Jack Hoag noted the city should seek the opinion of the public before making a final decision on the light.

“There’s people who get excited about it – it’s part of the city,” he said. “I know that we should keep it; I don’t know how we can.”

In other business, council members also agreed to put off approving a contract with Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital to provide water and sewer service to their new facility. City Attorney John Filoramo explained the city should add a section to the contract stipulating that all restoration work along the new water/sewer lines would have to be complete before the city takes over. Council members agreed and instructed Filoramo to add the section to the contract before approval.

During the reports and communications portion of the meeting, Aldrich explained she had recently reviewed the bylaws and constitution of the Manistique Senior Citizen Center Board. Recently, a joint meeting between city, county, and senior center officials unveiled confusion about what role the city plays in the center.

According to Aldrich, following investigation into the matter, the city is only responsible for leasing the building in which the center is located. Other than that, she noted the city does not play a role.

“It’s not really our intention to run the senior center, we have enough on our plate,” Aldrich said. “We will, though, look at the lease and will renew the lease.”

Filoramo commented about a continuing issue with the center’s approximately $74,000 in CDs (Certificates of Deposit).

“There’s a significant amount of money available, and I think it’s been set aside for repairs,” he said. “There’s an issue of who has control of it, and I think the (county) prosecutor (Tim Noble) is of the opinion that it’s the city’s part of the entity that has that money. That’s our money and I don’t think anybody’s accounted for it.”

He added that he recommended the center spend the money, which is believed to have been accumulated over the years via donations and fundraising, on the repairs.

Peterson added the city has no intention of being more involved in the center.

“They show us their financial reports – as long as they’re taking care of business and doing what they should with it … we’re not going to micromanage,” he said.

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