2012-11-29 / Front Page

City to forgo light

Council votes against committing funds

MANISTIQUE – The Manistique City Council has decided to “wait and see” what will happen with the East Breakwater Lighthouse. In forgoing their pursuit of the light, the city will be opening the structure up to other entities or for public sale.

Under the stipulations of 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 earlier this year. Those eligible to obtain ownership of the light, free of charge, include the local government of the community in which the historic light station is located, nonprofit corporations, educational agency, and community development organizations.

Any entity interested in the light must submit an application to the National Park Service 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.

Recently, Jeff Shook, of the MLC, informed the city that approximately $266,000 would be needed to bring the lighthouse up to the standards put forth by the NHLPA. The city, he explained, would need to commit to paying this amount as part of the application process.

According to Aldrich, the city could break the $266,000 into payments over four years and seek grants and use other fundraising mechanisms to come up with the money.

During Monday’s meeting, Aldrich explained she had contacted the NPS to ask if a resolution committing to the $266,000 would bind the city to the amount even if grants and other fundraisers did not provide the funds needed. A representative from the service explained the city would be able to have a 15 year extension to pay the amount, but it would need to be paid.

Aldrich also noted the NPS representative explained that if no entity pursued the light, the structure would be put to public auction, though any buyer would have to meet the same stipulations as the city. This would include continuing to operate the structure as a light, providing the United States Coast Guard access to the light, and the continued ownership of the breakwall by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Kerry Ott, Sault Tribe Strategic Alliance for Health community coordinator, stated she had conducted her own research and presented her findings during the meeting.

According to Ott, since the year 2000, approximately 200 lights had been offered to local governments, nonprofits or put up for public auction. As of 2011, only 85 of those have either been transferred or sold, she said.

“The majority of them that have been transferred have been to nonprofits, not to local governments,” Ott explained. “They’ve been to organizations that have come together to rally around and save their local light.”

Of the 115 that were not transferred or sold at auction, Ott said the U.S. government still owns and maintains them. She added that the majority of lights that had sold at auction had houses attached to them.

“My gut reaction to all of this is two-fold. One, that the federal government is trying to cut their expenses and they’re trying to put those expenses on local governments and nonprofit organizations because of the emotional attachment people have to lights,” she said. “That’s a lot of money for a small community – $266,000 – and that’s just the beginning of it.”

Ott explained that the city’s acceptance of the light would also mean a commitment to maintenance costs and that no grant program comes with the transfer of ownership.

“There are grant programs out there,” Aldrich added. “But, I mean, you can’t be assured that you’re going to get it.”

According to Ott, the NPS noted they had sent out instructions on completing the application to two entities – one being the MLC and the other unknown.

“I don’t view that as a bad thing,” she said. “If there’s a nonprofit or other governmental agency trying to get a hold of the light, that’s not a bad thing. They can’t move it, they’ve got to maintain it; the cost is theirs.”

The MLC had requested an extension to complete the application, which was originally due on Nov. 15, and now has until Dec. 15 to complete it. In a recent email to Aldrich, Shook explained that the city and MLC would split the application up and each complete certain sections. Before proceeding, however, the city would need to commit to raising the $266,000.

Following Ott’s “unofficial” recommendation to put acquiring the light on hold and, if no one takes it, to use the time between now and then to give the city more time to plan, council briefly discussed the matter.

Mayor David Peterson explained that the government appears to be placing the burden of bringing the light up to code on the city.

“They’re trying to pass that on to us and now we have to bring it up to that code,” he said. “If they put it in that condition, then they should at least bring it up to the code that they want. I don’t think that we should jump into this … without doing some more research.”

Councilperson Dan Evonich added that the initial estimate of $266,000 to restore the light could increase dramatically once actual bids are sought for the work.

A motion from councilperson Jack Hoag to “let it die” was supported by councilperson Rick Hollister. Hoag later amended his motion to the city taking a “wait and see” approach and addressing possibly obtaining the light down the road.

The motion was unanimously approved.

According to Shook, this now means the city will officially turn down the lighthouse and the structure will most likely be placed up for auction unless another entity comes forward to obtain it.

In other business, the council also unanimously approved a contract between the city and Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital. The city attorney, John Filoramo, recently added a section to the contract stipulating SMH would be responsible for any restoration work following the installation of the water and sewer lines. The contract will now go back to the SMH board for final approval and acceptance.

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