HARPSWELL, Maine — As the U.S. Coast Guard is looking to hand off a lighthouse 4.5 miles off the coast of Bailey Island, the town and local historical society say they have little interest in taking it over.
A May 16 memo detailing the decision about the remote Halfway Rock Light Station, located halfway between Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small, marks the start of a search for a new owner of the lighthouse that was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
A federal agency, state or local government, nonprofit, educational agency or community development organization could qualify to take over the building at no sale cost, but two of the closest qualifying entities, the town of Harpswell and the Harpswell Historical Society, have little interest in applying.
The town’s Board of Selectmen will have their first formal conversation about the lighthouse tonight but all three members were lukewarm on the idea Wednesday.
“I think we have enough on our hands at the moment,” Selectman Jim Henderson said, citing the town’s efforts to configure infrastructure at the town-owned Mitchell Field, where a pier recently collapsed and could cost the town an unexpected $25,000 to remove, if approved by voters in June.
Selectwoman Elinor Multer agreed that the town does not need a lighthouse and Selectwoman Alison Hawkes said she was still considering the proposal.
“There are a lot more things to think about than taking over a monument,” Hawkes said. “That’s my concern with that.”
Town officials have expressed similar concerns over ownership of remaining buildings at Mitchell Field and the West Harpswell School, which came into town possession after the school’s closure last year. At tonight’s meeting, the Board of Selectmen will also consider putting out a request for bids to manage the WHS property.
While David Hackett, president of the Harpswell Historical Society, also said he sees his organization’s management of the island lighthouse as impractical, other qualifying agencies still have until July 16 to submit a letter of interest to the U.S. General Services Administration and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to take over ownership of the lighthouse.
“It’s quite a nice place,” Hackett said. “I’ve been out there many times, but I don’t see any possibility of the [Harpswell] Historical Society doing anything with it.”
If the lighthouse is not transferred to a qualifying government or nonprofit organization, the lighthouse will be put up for auction.
The 77-foot lighthouse, built in 1871, was listed in 2004 on the nonprofit Maine Preservation’s list of most endangered historic resources, which cited the lighthouse’s remote location as making “any restoration inordinately expensive” and “an enormous challenge in the essential stabilization of this maritime landmark.”
A 2006 article by Bob Trapiani Jr., at the website of the current tenants, the Maine Lighthouse Foundation, argues that the remote location shouldn’t be a strike against the structure.
“Just because the general public may not be aware of this historic treasure at the outer edge of Casco Bay does not mean its historical value is lessened or that the site should be deemed any less important as other more well known and accessible treasures of similar age, significance and value,” Trapiani wrote.
Read the full notice of availability for Halfway Rock Light Station at http://goo.gl/0tkFd. For more information about the application process or access to inspect the structure, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-565-5823.
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