June 20, 2018
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Lighthouse film project runs aground over blaring foghorn

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

JONESPORT, Maine — The people of Jonesport, a coastal fishing village, thought their ship had come in when a New York City woman wanted to film a movie in their picturesque community and at a nearby lighthouse.

It appears the ship has run aground, however — foundering on the rocky shoals of the Coast Guard bureaucracy because of a foghorn located on the island containing Moose Peak Light.

Townspeople embraced the film project late last year, voting to allow the use of the name of the village in the production. The feature film would be shot on location in Jonesport and nearby Mistake Island.

The project appears to be in jeopardy, however. People associated with the production asked the Coast Guard to temporarily turn off the foghorn to allow filming, but the service says it does not allow such requests.

The foghorn operates around the clock, making two blasts a few seconds apart about every half-minute, explained Matthew Stuck, civilian chief of aids to navigation for the Coast Guard’s first district in Boston.

The Coast Guard does not, as a matter of policy, grant requests to turn off lights or foghorns temporarily to accommodate film productions, family gatherings or outings, or other special activities or events, Stuck said Friday. It only turns them off in order to perform maintenance or make repairs.

“We don’t [turn off] a signal other than for navigational purposes,” said Stuck. Turning off signals could pose a problem to mariners, he suggested, because they are designated on nautical charts.

“We get requests like this periodically … and our answers are pretty consistent,” said Stuck.

“We are hopeful the matter will be resolved shortly,” Erica Fae, a New York City-based performer, writer, director and maker of short films, said Friday. Fae, who planned to shoot the film on location in August, declined further comment on the Coast Guard’s handing of the request.

Jonesport officials and the Connecticut businessman who owns the lighthouse wrote to Maine Sen. Susan Collins in mid-February, asking her to intervene.

“Sen. Collins’ office has contacted Coast Guard officials in New England to forward this request and has asked that it be given all consideration within any applicable statutory or regulatory constraints,” said Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins. Her office has not received a response yet from the Coast Guard, Kelley said.

“This is a minor issue,” Harry Fish, a member of the town’s Board of Selectmen who operates a tour boat service, said Thursday. “After all, we’re talking about a foghorn that only needs to operate when it is foggy.”

“I don’t know why a sound signal needs to be active in good visibility … There’s no point in that foghorn blowing on a bright, sunny day,” he added.

“I’m not sure why this has become a stickler of an issue,” said Fish.

Coast Guard Chief Thomas Sperduto, assistant for public affairs in Boston, said that a person who lives near a foghorn may be annoyed by the sound, but the Coast Guard would not grant a request to turn it off. Accordingly, it would not be fair to turn off the foghorn to accommodate the film crew, he said.

When asked why it could not be turned off temporarily in the absence of fog, while there is no need for the warning, Sperduto answered, “I’m not going to speculate on that.”

In their letter to Collins, the Jonesport selectmen noted the production will benefit the town economically. The crew will lodge and purchase supplies and materials in the area. They also would hire some workers and extras.

Don Vaccaro, who owns the lighthouse and also wrote to Collins to ask for assistance, said Friday he was “kind of surprised” by the Coast Guard decision. If the film is made and is well received, it “would put Jonesport on the map,” he said, and help spur tourism to the region.

The film would be about a woman tending a lighthouse for her ailing husband in the mid-1800s. A website with information about the project describes the film as a “visually striking drama (that) blends psychological suspense, passion and feminist revelation into a story of quiet rebellion.”

The heroine of the film is a fictional, composite character based on two real women — Abbie Burgess, known for tending Matinicus Rock Light and Whitehead Light in midcoast Maine, and Ida Lewis, a lighthouse keeper in Rhode Island.

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