Digest>Archives> September 2002

Editorial: The Future of a Lighthouse Hangs in the Balance

County Government wants to take lighthouse from non-profit group that restored it


How would you feel if your non-profit group had worked for over 20 years to restore a lighthouse and then, just as success was at its peak, you found out that your state and local representatives wanted to take it away from you and give it to the county government to be part of a restored lavish hunting lodge/residence that has nothing to do with lighthouse history?

Most likely you would shout that this is a travesty and politics at its all time worst.

Well, it may very well happen with the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in North Carolina.

How can it happen you ask? The answer is simple.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse was leased to the non-profit Outer Banks Conservationists who have spent the past 21 years restoring the tower, keeper's house and other buildings at the site. They have developed a gift shop, published an oral history of the lighthouse, and made what was once a light station in shambles, one of the premier restorations in the nation.

In 2001 the U.S. Coast Guard declared the Currituck Lighthouse excess property and it was made available for transfer of ownership by the General Services Administration under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. This law gives equal footing to non-profits with other government agencies to apply for ownership of a lighthouse. However, although not written in the law, the spirit of the law really meant that a non-profit that had already worked to restore a lighthouse should be allowed to get ownership.

Now, along comes the local county government that says it wants to own the lighthouse, even though they had nothing to do with its restoration. In fact at the time the lighthouse restoration began when the keeper's house was falling in and the grounds were overgrown, they could have cared less about the lighthouse. Now that a group of volunteers has spent 21 years restoring it, they want to take it over as an income-producing site and merge it into the adjoining park with a restored hunting lodge.

Worse yet, is that some North Carolina politicians support the county government. One of them, Currituck County Commissioner, Paul O'Neal, as quoted from a recent newspaper story said, "We're going to fight it politically, publicly and morally . . .We're going to combat them any way we can think of." What does he mean by MORALLY?

Is he insinuating that non-profits are immoral?

Then there's North Carolina Representative Bill Owens who says, “Non-profits are here today and gone tomorrow.” Wake up Rep. Owens!!! Politicians are here today and gone tomorrow. What will happen to the lighthouse when the county government has a budget crisis? Will the lighthouse be closed? Will it fall into disrepair?

Will Rep. Owens volunteer his time to work at the lighthouse and maintain it? What do you think? The fact remains, non-profits are often in a more advantageous position to raise funds privately and accomplish repairs in a timely fashion than a financially strapped local government would be.

Consider some of the finest NON-PROFIT lighthouse restorations in the nation such as: Tybee Island, GA; Montauk, NY; Race Point, MA; Rose Island, RI; Seguin Island, ME; St. Augustine, FL; St. Helena, MI; Key West, FL; and the list goes on and on.

Or, how about George Washington's home, MT. VERNON, or Thomas Jefferson's home MONTICELLO, both of which are run by non-profits. Would he propose to throw out the non-profits that run these historic landmarks and many others around the nation and also turn them over to the local governments? Remember, the first tourist attraction in the United States was MT. VERNON, started and still run to this day by a non-profit.

In fact, the Currituck Light Station might not even be standing today if it were not for the Outer Banks Conservationists. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse was there “then,” is here “today” and will be here “tomorrow” because of the non-profit Outer Banks Conservationists.

New applications are being submitted again for the ownership of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and will have been submitted by September 1st.

We, the undersigned, urge our readers to write letters of support for the Outer Banks Conservationists for ownership of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to the person who will make the final decision: Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, 1849 C Street N.W., Washington, DC 20240. Or contact her office by phone # 202-208-3100, or by e-mail at: gale_Norton@ios.doi.gov.

This great American lighthouse deserves the best and the Outer Banks Conservationist has fulfilled every need of the Currituck Beach Light Station. If the Currituck County commissioners had spent the last 21 years restoring this lighthouse could a non-profit now simply step in and take it away from them? Preposterous!

If the lighthouse is transferred to the local Currituck County government, it will be nothing short of modern-day privateering with a letter of marque from the U.S. government. What a discouraging message this would be to non-profits all over America.

Hopefully, the U.S. Department of the Interior will make the right decision and give the lighthouse to the non-profit Outer Banks Conservationists. They saved it, they have kept it open to the public, and they are the only fair and reasonable choice to become the owners. You can help. Send your letter, email or make that phone call today!

Cheryl Shelton Roberts

President Outer Banks Lighthouse Society

Tim Harrison

President - American Lighthouse Foundation

Editor - Lighthouse Digest Magazine

Gayle Haines

Past President Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society

Founding Member National Lighthouse Museum Board

Founder Lighthouse Safaris

Jim Gill USCG Ret.

President - Lightship Sailors Association

William Trotter

Past President American Lighthouse Historical Society & Museum

Lighthouse Artist

Charlotte Johnson

Executive Director Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation

Anne Webster-Wallace

Past President Friends of Seguin Island

Director Island Institute's Maine Lights Program

Richard Moehl

President - Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association

Dave Lombardi

President - Dutch Island Lighthouse Society

Ron Foster

President - New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL)

Dorothy Black

Co-Chair- Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse

Bob Trapani, Jr.

President-Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation

Bob & Sandra Shanklin

"The Lighthouse People"

Dale Treadway

Co-Chair - Avery Point Lighthouse Society

Thomas Tag

Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Jim Walker

Chairman-Cape Cod Chapter American Lighthouse Foundation

Elinor DeWire

Lighthouse author & historian

Jeri Baron Feltner

DeTour Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society

Mike Vogel

President, American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee

President, Buffalo Lighthouse Association

Cullen Chambers

Executive Director Tybee Island Historical Society

Merlon Wiggin

President-East End Lighthouses, Inc.

Editor’s note: There were many other people that wanted to be included on this list of signatures, but, because of space limitations could not be included here.

This story appeared in the September 2002 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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