Digest>Archives> July 2003

Lighthouse Fiasco

Biggest Scandal in modern lighthouse history

By Timothy Harrison


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Betty Collins photo.

Editorial Comment

There is no way the Congress of the United States could ever have imagined, when it passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, that a lone Congressman, a small group of county officials in a southern state and one federal non-elected government employee would do everything in their power to circumvent the law to steal a lighthouse from a group that spent millions of dollars and untold volunteer hours to save it.

Now, because of legal shenanigans and politics at its worst, as of this writing, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse could go up for sale to the highest bidder.

The Congress of the United States passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act to give non-profits equal opportunity and equal footing with government agencies when applying for ownership of a lighthouse. Congress created a fair application process, and a fair appeal process, which now is now being circumvented by one non-elected public official, who apparently thinks that he is above the law as he gives in to the political pressure of one North Carolina Congressman. Even worse, he apparently does not care or listen to the hundreds of calls and emails protesting this action.

The Outer Banks Conservationists, (OBC) the current caretakers of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in North Carolina applied for ownership of the lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act (NHLPA).

The local county also applied for ownership.

OBC received a score of 97 out of a possible 100. The local county government received a score of 33 out a possible 100. OBC won the process fair and square.

The local county government appealed the decision. Since the beginning of time in this country, when an appeal is made, a decision is then made one way or another. Instead, the man overseeing the appeal, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson decided that neither the local county government nor the OBC should get ownership of the lighthouse. Instead he asked them both to reapply or reach some type of compromise. That decision was made on the 45th day after the appeal was filed.

In spite of the fact that both sides had tried to reach a compromise in the past, it was agreed that they would try again, however to no avail. The county could not even agree on who should be at the compromise meeting.

The facts are clear, OBC won the process fair and square and they should get ownership. It’s time the local county government admits that the will of the people in obeying the law should be carried out. If not, what is next? Will they decide they don’t like the results of the next election and ignore the results?

It was North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones who first tried to circumvent the law and during the middle of the ownership application process introduced legislation, buried deep in an obscure bill pending before Congress, a law that would have Congressionally transferred ownership of the lighthouse from the federal government to the local county. When the people found out about it at the last minute the media ran with the story and the “theft in the middle of the night” was stopped. Is that same Congressman putting pressure on the Assistant Secretary of the Interior in an attempt to again circumvent a law that he himself helped pass?

As we go to press the decision on the future of the Currituck Lighthouse has not been finalized. However, the real danger here is the future of the entire process of the remaining approximately 300 lighthouses in this nation that will be excessed under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

Laws that are passed must be obeyed. If you don’t like the law change it. But, as long as the NHLPA is the law, then it must be followed. We must not allow our lighthouses to be put up for sale to the highest bidder. That process must be reserved only if a qualified owner cannot be found under the NHLPA.

This story appeared in the July 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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