HARPSWELL, Maine — A Casco Bay lighthouse being auctioned by the federal government has already received a $15,000 bid, less than three weeks after being put on the market.
Halfway Rock Light Station, so-named because it lies halfway between Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small, sits on 1.5 acres of rocky ledge off the southern tip of Bailey Island, about 10 miles east of Portland.
The station is one of 10 lighthouses being auctioned off or otherwise transferred by the U.S. General Services Administration this year.
Gauging by the size of the initial bid — $10,000 more than the minimum suggested by the General Services Administration — there is at least one party interested in owning the historic tower.
So far, no other bidders have followed the lead, but other parties may be waiting to inspect the property before jumping in, said General Services Administration spokesman Patrick Sclafani.
“Often, we’ll see more activity after the inspection,” Sclafani said. It isn’t unusual to see competitive bidding really take off after people visit a property and get a better sense of what it is they’re actually bidding for, he noted.
Sclafani said he expects the property to fetch much more than the $15,000 after bidding begins in earnest.
The General Services Administration will probably wait for more bidders to put up the $5,000 registration fee before bringing people out to see the lighthouse. Sclafani said an inspection tour will take place sometime this summer.
The Halfway Rock property was constructed in 1871 and consists of a 76-foot-tall tapered granite tower with a iron dome-shaped roof holding the light room. The 24-foot diameter tower once held a keeper’s house and storage facilities.
The property also has a connected deteriorated wooden boat house and a partial wooden boat ramp. On-site solar panels and batteries will remain the property of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Additionally, the Coast Guard will continue to maintain and operate the tower’s navigation aids, including the light which emits a red flash every second, and a fog horn that sounds two 124-decibel blasts every 30 seconds.
In its description of the property, the General Services Administration notes that the fog horn “produces decibel levels that may be a threat to human health and safety,” and cautions potential bidders that the property has asbestos-containing materials and may also have lead paint.
Despite the potential hazards related to lighthouse ownership, the General Services Administration has transferred more than 100 of the structures since 2000.
The General Services Administration considers the lighthouses to be “excess” because it is no longer necessary for the Coast Guard to own the structures in order to provide critical navigation aids.
Excess lighthouses are offered to other government agencies and qualified nonprofits before being put on the auction block.
So far, 36 lighthouses have been sold to private owners through auction and 68 transferred at no cost to preservationists.
So far, the most expensive sale recorded is the $933,888 paid last year for the Graves Light in Boston Harbor. In 2010, a Portland-area doctor paid $190,000 for the the Ram Island Ledge Light, off Cape Elizabeth.
The lowest price paid for a light station so far has been $10,000.