Source: The Ozaukee Press
Oct. 1, 2014
The Port Washington Common Council will be asked next week to consider acquiring the city’s landmark Art Deco lighthouse from the Coast Guard.
Mayor Tom Mlada said Monday that the Coast Guard is expected to begin the process of divesting itself of the lighthouse early next year and the city needs to be ready when that happens.
“My 10 cents is that, when the General Services Administration does come along and offer it to us, we take them up on it,” Mlada said.
“It’s iconic. It’s one of those things you identify with Port Washington. And, in theory, if you pass on it and a private individual were to buy it, you would have no real say in what happens to it.”
The lighthouse, which was built in 1935 for $38,000, consists of a metal Art Deco tower that rests on a 20-foot-square cement base that has large arches on each of its faces so it doesn’t obstruct the view of mariners using the harbor.
It was built at the end of the north breakwater, which the city and the Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of repairing.
Since it was built, the distinctive lighthouse has been a symbol of Port Washington, used on everything from the city’s logo to postcards.
A trip to the breakwater and lighthouse is part of the tourist experience in Port Washington, and images of the lighthouse are captured by hundreds of photographers each year.
But the Coast Guard is in the process of divesting itself of the historic lighthouses it owns, listing about 10 of the structures for acquisition each year.
“We can’t afford to maintain them anymore,” said Laurette Tully, a realty specialist for the Coast Guard.
But while the Coast Guard may be divesting itself of lighthouses, that doesn’t mean they will cease to serve a navigational function.
“We would maintain the light. The new owner would maintain the lighthouse,” Tully said. “We only need the light bulb inside of them.”
The Port lighthouse is expected to be on the list of structures declared excess soon, probably in 2016, Tully said.
The Coast Guard will likely write up a report to start the process next year, turning the lighthouse over to the General Services Administration for divestment when the report is completed, she said. That process typically takes a year, she added.
The GSA is in charge of filing notices that historic lighthouses are available for acquisition, offering them first to federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit corporations, educational agencies and community development organizations at no cost.
But if no one steps forward to acquire them, the agency may sell them at auction.
Mlada said he called the Coast Guard to inquire abut the status of the Port lighthouse after talking to officials from Manitowoc who passed on the opportunity to acquire its lighthouse when it was divested in 2009.
An investor from New York later obtained Manitowoc’s lighthouse and committed $30,000 to repair and restore it, he said.
Mlada said he was surprised to discover Port’s lighthouse would likely be on the block in the coming year, adding that the city needs to move quickly to be prepared when the lighthouse is listed for acquisition.
“This is a community asset, even though it’s not our asset per se,” he said.
Mlada said he is working to obtain a condition report for the lighthouse from the Coast Guard and will check to see if some of the work, such as repairing the broken portholes, could be done by the Coast Guard now to prevent further deterioration.
“I think we’re going to need to get a better idea of the cost we would be facing,” he said. “Certainly it needs love. It needs paint. The portholes are all broken. We don’t know if the foghorn works.”
In addition, he said, there have been numerous suggestions through the years on ways to enhance the lighthouse, including uplighting the structure.
As part of the application to acquire the lighthouse, Mlada said, the city needs to create a plan of action that would include a commitment to maintain the structure.
“The city doesn’t have the ability to budget $50,000 for repairs,” he said.
The city can seek grants for the repairs, much as it is seeking grants for the breakwater repairs, he said, but community groups and residents in general will also likely be tapped.
“I certainly see it as having great potential to partner,” Mlada said.
The lighthouse work could be seen as the final phase to the breakwater repair project the city has embarked on, he added.
“You really can’t separate one of these from the other,” he said.
Mary Jo Joyce, president of the Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation, which was formed last year to help finance repairs to the breakwater, said the organization is currently reconsidering its mission in light of the city’s success in fixing the structure.
The group may refocus on a goal like the lighthouse or choose to disband, she said.
Mlada said he is confident the community will stand behind the lighthouse effort.
“Unless the amount is exorbitant, I think the bottom line is there is enough interest in this beloved community asset to get this done,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about preserving a piece of Port Washington for future generations.”