Digest>Archives> November 2006

Mail Boat


Mr. Harrison:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge System has an excellent record of interpretive and preservation planning and will be excellent stewards of the St. Marks Lighthouse. Your comments in reference to the name of this branch of our government (September issue of Lighthouse Digest) are misguided and way off base. Money appropriated for preservation and interpretation to USFWS is quite different than funds appropriated to the USCG for their mission fulfillment. The National Lighthouse Preservation Act was legislation passed by Congress to cover the situations where U.S. Government agencies could not care for the deactivated lights and another entity would be appropriate.

The position taken by USFWS regarding soil contamination makes absolute sense. Government agencies like private individuals AND non-profits cannot turn a blind eye to environmental hazards, especially when the public will be on those grounds at some point.

Please give more effort to promoting partnerships among federal agencies and non-profits. Together we can help save more of our lighthouses and stretch very limited resources, both public and private, much further.

Thank you.

Ed Merrell

Editor’s Reply:

I stand by my statements. No matter how you look at it or what you say; when the Coast Guard transfers ownership of a lighthouse to another government agency, it will still be taxpayer money that is used to restore or maintain the lighthouse, while nonprofits are left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Hopefully that situation will change at some point, but until it does, my statement remains the same.

As far as environmental hazards, again, it is the taxpayers that will foot the bill, no matter which federal agency owns a lighthouse.

As far as federal agencies owning lighthouses, these other federal agencies are more interested in acquiring and adding property and land to their domain than anything else. If these bureaucrats have their way, everything would be federally owned and none would ever be owned by hard working volunteers of nonprofits, which was certainly not the intent of Congress. While there are many dedicated and good people in the National Park Service, not everyone under the Department of the Interior has the same view and many working under the Department of the Interior, are more interested in the over protection of wildlife and the environment than they are in saving our historic lighthouses and opening them to the public. Protecting nature and the lighthouses can go hand in hand, something that historic preservationists understand but many federal bureaucrats and the zealous environmentalists don't understand and will never agree with.

After all, lighthouses were built to save HUMAN lives. They were not built to harm the environment or wildlife. As I said, preservationists also care about the wildlife and the environment. On the other hand, many environmentalists could care less about historic preservation. The world's lighthouses have existed side by side for hundreds of years with wildlife in some of the most scenic areas of the world.

Mr. Harrison:

As Chairman of the group building a replica of the Choptank River Lighthouse (Keeper's Korner, September 2006), I would like to comment on your comparison of replicas as opposed to saving existing lighthouses and the subsequent funding efforts of each.

It is not a quid-pro-quo consideration when saving existing structures versus building replicas. All of us would hope to save as many existing lighthouses as possible, but for many projects such efforts are just not practical. First off, the expense of saving many standing lighthouses far exceeds the cost to build a replica. Secondly — and this is most important - replicas can be built exactly where one wants one. As you know, saving American lighthouses under the current federal law does not allow for moving the structures, except under some circumstances and in that case the Coast Guard will request funds to build another structure for their light. This in-place requirement clearly eliminates many municipalities and small non-profits from acquiring and saving lighthouses to be used as museums, or public facilities unless the structure is already near land in the desired location. In addition, the intrinsic design and construction of many standing lighthouses — even if one could move them — is simply not practical for other uses.

In some cases on the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere, many structures are simply too far out in the water in remote areas to be of any use other than private “second home” use, which is apparently what is happening to many of them. Yes, the structures may be saved for now, but one has to question the preservation of historic structures in a manner that eliminates them from public appreciation. The real hope for saving even more American lighthouses may be in the rigid federal regulation preventing relocation of the structures. Perhaps with a relaxing of that in-place preservation rule, the potential for saving more lighthouses for the public good would be better served.

We considered saving either the Sharp's Island caisson, iron plate structure (in terrible condition) or the Hopper's Island lighthouse, which sits 3 miles far offshore in a very remote area. In both cases, relocation is not allowed under the federal preservation guidelines. At best — even if such relocation were allowed — the cost to move and restore such structures would be far beyond the budget of the city and worst, the design of those structures is simply not appropriate for the Cambridge marina or the use intended. I should emphasize the fact that the Choptank River cottage style lighthouse is being built as a gift to the City of Cambridge, Maryland, which will use it as a dockmaster's office, and city visitors center in their new marina and a building appropriate to that use was needed.

While it is an ideal goal to save every lighthouse, such efforts should not be compared to authentically replicated lighthouses built for such specific purposes. Nor should it be assumed that those contributing to a replica will not contribute to the effort to save an existing lighthouse. I think the replica may encourage such interest, although admittedly, many of our donors are giving to the City as much as they are to the lighthouse, so one can safely say these contributions would never have gone to a standing lighthouse in any case.

I contend that authentic replicas, properly built, conveniently located, and open to the public will draw more people to the history and appreciation of American lighthouses. As I read through your magazine advertisements and your extensive catalog of lighthouse reproductions I suspect your company already appreciates that fact.

Patrick Hornberger

Chairman Choptank River Lighthouse Committee

PO Box 1235

Cambridge, MD 21613

Patrick Hornberger is the author of Forgotten Beacons, The Lost Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay and President of Eastwind Publishing, publishers of: Bay Beacons, Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay; Out of Harms Way, Moving America's Lighthouse and U.S. Lighthouse Service Tenders and other maritime history titles.

This story appeared in the November 2006 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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