Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2013

Wickie’s Wisdom

Lens Issues Out of Control

By Timothy Harrison


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The Fresnel lens from Maine’s Boon Island ...

It was recently announced that the 2nd order Fresnel lens that was once used at the tallest lighthouse in Maine might have to be removed from the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum, in Kittery, Maine, where it has been on display for 13 years, because of the increase in valuation and insurance. The small museum said they needed to raise $1,000 for the insurance payment to insure the lens which was originally valued by the Coast Guard at $1 million. But they were able to negotiate with the Coast Guard to have the value adjusted to $800,000.

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The lens from Boon Island Lighthouse as it ...

Since $1,000 is a lot of money for a small museum, a raffle was started to raise money to pay for the insurance for the lens, which is one of the museum’s biggest tourist draws. Kim Sanborn of the museum said, “Lighthouse people, people who might not otherwise come to Kittery, come because of the lens.”

A few miles further up the road, another 2nd order lens that was once in the Cape Elizabeth’s Two Lights east tower faced a similar fate. For the past 18 years, the lens, considered part of the collection of the Museum at Portland Head Light, which is now owned by the town, has been on display for public viewing at the Cape Elizabeth Town Hall. Newspaper accounts in 1995 reported that the Coast Guard required the lens to be insured by the town for $1.5 million. According to the town, the lens was last valued by the Coast Guard at $2.5 million, with the insurance costing $2,630 per year. However, when renovations were planned for the town hall, they wanted to move the lens to a different location in the building. The updated condition requirements for display of the lens and the price of insurance would have cost the town an annual cost of $7,500. Needless to say, the town manager recommended that the community give the lens back to the Coast Guard.

Is it better to have a Fresnel lens dismantled and crated up for storage in some warehouse where no one will see it, or should it be in display for the public to view and enjoy? While a large successful museum with lots of money can probably afford the high insurance at the expense of its donors and its higher admission fees, small museums and remote lighthouses might find the financial burden too great to carry.

In a newspaper interview, Aryln Danielson, the official Curator for the Coast Guard said, “If they [Fresnel lenses] are destroyed, they can’t be replaced, and if they are damaged, they are very expensive to repair.” Duh - like we didn’t know that. Why are some lenses of the same order valued more than others? Why does the value increase from year to year? The valuation changes are way above the rate of inflation. Just who determines the value of each Fresnel lens and what criteria do they use? Does the Coast Guard have all the lenses in their possession insured, and if, so with whom? And, are all Fresnel lenses that are on display at Coast Guard bases and offices around the country required to have the same stringent rules of display that are required elsewhere? I think we all know the answer to that.

Additionally, why are the same requirements that pertain to the display of a Fresnel lens in a museum or other public place not as stringent for a lens that is still in use in the lantern room of a lighthouse?

And now to further complicate Fresnel lens issues, the Coast Guard wants to remove the Fresnel lens from Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine, which is one of the most photographed and viewed lighthouses in the nation. Removing the Fresnel lens at this popular tourist attraction lighthouse would be devastating to the historic integrity and the tourist aesthetic value of the lighthouse.

In our humble opinion, it would make sense for the Coast Guard to negotiate one blanket insurance policy for all of the Fresnel lenses that they own, whether in their possession or not. This would surely allow for a more fair and balanced insurance value to be placed on all the lenses. Then, museums and other public places that have a lens on loan from the Coast Guard could negotiate a fair and equitable amount for their share of the insurance that would be based on attendance or some other criteria that could be established by a consensus of everyone involved. That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2013 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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