2013-07-18 / Front Page

New owner for light?

Bidder may claim city lighthouse for $15,000

MANISTIQUE – The iconic Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse may have a new owner. After being placed on the General Services Administration’s auction site in June, the online auction closed Monday with one bid of $15,000 entered.

The light was originally tagged for “disposal” by the GSA in mid-2012 and listed on its Real Property Utilization and Disposal website. Under the stipulations of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, those eligible to obtain ownership of the light, free of charge, included the city, which officially turned down the opportunity in November 2012. The city council said the estimated $266,000 needed to bring the light up to the standards put forth by the NHLPA was too much for the city to afford.

Jeff Shook, of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, said the amount could have been broken into payments over four years to ten years, and various grants and other fundraising mechanisms used for some of the cost, but the city instead backed out of a partnership they had formed with the Conservancy and allowed the light to go up for auction.

During the meeting in which the city decided to forgo obtaining the light, Kerry Ott, Sault Tribe Strategic Alliance for Health community coordinator, presented research she had conducted on her own time. She noted that, since the year 2000, approximately 200 lights had been offered to local governments, nonprofits or put up for public auction, and, as of 2011, only 85 of those had either been transferred or sold.

“My gut reaction to all of this is … 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 at the time.

On Tuesday, following the close of the auction, Shook summed up the latest development.

“Basically, they (the GSA) have their final bid, and the auction is closed,” he said. “They have to determine, at this point, if they’re going to accept that bid or not.”

Shook explained the GSA reserves the right to reject any bid, and that other lighthouses up for auction have sold for significantly more than the East Breakwater Lighthouse.

“Speaking from a sales standpoint, it’s sold cheaper than a lot of other lighthouses have,” he said. “If they think that that’s the best that they could have gotten for the light, then they’ll probably accept it.”

If the GSA does not accept the bid, the light will go back up for auction.

“Hopefully, they’ll accept it and whoever got it will be the proud new owner of a lighthouse,” he said.

For now, the process of accepting the bid and final deed transfer can take months. During this time, the person who placed the bid may remain anonymous until the deed is placed in their name. The auction was opened internationally.

“It’s pretty much a lot of unknowns right now, unfortunately,” he said. “It would be nice to know what the fate is going to be.”

Shook explained that the city missed their opportunity to acquire the lighthouse by not completing the application process.

“That was the only way to get it for free,” he said. “Once you’re past that point, it’s the point of no return.”

While the new owner will not have to meet all of the stipulations the city would have had to if they acquired the light, there are restrictions included in the sale. For instance, in the invitation for bids document, the GSA states the purchaser must “maintain and preserve the property in accordance with the recommended approaches in The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties” and that “Distinctive materials, features, finishes, construction techniques and examples of craftsmanship that characterize the property shall be preserved.”

In order to make any alterations to the physical appearance or structure, the purchaser must consult with and obtain written approval signed by a fully authorized representative of the SHPO.

In addition, all federal aids to navigation located at the property in operation remain the personal property of the United States and shall continue to be operated and maintained by the United States for as long as needed for navigational purposes.

Since the lighthouse is located on the breakwater, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the purchaser must obtain a lease from the Corps.

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