Digest>Archives> December 2005

Wickie's Wisdom

By Timothy Harrison


In this issue as well as in the past, we have written numerous articles revolving about the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act (NHLPA), which allows the private nonprofit sector to compete with other government agencies to apply for ownership of America's lighthouses.

At the time the law was passed, we thought this was a good law. Although a number of lighthouses have been transferred to new qualified stewards, the Act in itself is flawed and perhaps weaker than most of us thought.

Some nonprofit applicants have had their applications stalled, delayed, delayed again and even denied. In North Carolina, a federal legislator tried to circumvent the law on more than one occasion to try to stop a legitimate nonprofit from getting ownership of the lighthouse.

An applicant for a Maine lighthouse has, as of this writing, been delayed for months. Another was denied while another lighthouse was pulled off the list because of a government agency's complaint that they did not want the lighthouse excessed or if it is to be excessed, then it should be given to them, bypassing the NHLPA.

The system itself is to blame and by not taking a firm stand or

having the backbone to do so, many bureaucrats have not helped

in the way that they could.

Didn't anyone realize that many of America's lighthouses, especially those of the offshore lights, would not have a nonprofit or local community that would be financially able to apply for ownership, even though they wanted the lighthouse? Instead of Congress giving more money to the Coast Guard, which is and always has been the best steward of our lighthouses or granting immediate federal financial assistance to nonprofits and local communities for lighthouses that are in real danger of being lost forever, they will now be auctioned off, an easy way to unload these expensive but historic structures and then make a few bucks to boot.

Some of these lighthouses have now been auctioned off for big money — money that could have gone into the preservation of the lighthouse. Now, the new owners of auctioned lighthouses must raise even more money to restore and maintain the structures. What if they can't or don't? Who is really going to enforce the covenants of the deed or will some lighthouses simply be lost for lack of money? What about many of the government preservation experts who monitor the restoration process? A lot of them are so strict in their interpretation of the preservation laws for restoration, that the restoration will cost many times more than it should to save a lighthouse. In fact, some would rather see the structure

demolished rather than have it restored according to some unpractical and/or financially unfeasible and outdated preservation restoration rules.

Plus, there are other double standards when one government agency that now owns a lighthouse can bypass some of the rules that a nonprofit would not be allowed to do. In other cases, many government entities can qualify for government grant money that is not allowed to be given to a nonprofit. Wow, talk about double standards!

The process does not answer the call for preservation in the spirit we are all led to believe. In reality, the NHLPA is a weak Act that lacks true commitment to work with the nonprofit sector. Seeing nonprofits treated differently and seeing lighthouses being auctioned off in numbers like this is a real tragedy.

That's my opinion and I welcome yours.

This story appeared in the December 2005 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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