Feds looking to hand over Orient Point Light

06/02/2011 12:32 PM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Orient Point Light will soon be in the hands of a new agency as federal officials look to pass the torch.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard are ready to part with Orient Point Light in Plum Gut.

Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the federal government is offering to hand the lighthouse keys to a state or local agency or nonprofit corporation, educational agency or community development group for recreational, cultural and historic preservation purposes.

The now-defunct East End Lighthouses, which merged at the beginning of the year with the East End Seaport Museum & Marine Foundation, had been expecting the news.

“We’re very interested,” said foundation chairman Ted Webb. “It’s part of our mission to preserve East End lighthouses.”

But the group can’t just jump in with a bid for ownership. “We’d have to do some major fundraising. If the community is supportive, we’d take it on,” said Mr. Webb. “It’s kind of exciting and we can’t allow that light to fall apart or be destroyed.”

Any organization that takes title to the light must still allow the Coast Guard access to maintain it.

Mr. Webb visited the lighthouse on Wednesday, coincidentally the day the federal General Services Administration in Boston opened a 60-day window for ownership bids. While there he noticed that some repair work had been done to the cast iron base, which had opened along a seam, allowing seawater to move in and out. Still, the light lists five degrees to the south.

The lighthouse, known as the “Coffee Pot” because of its distinct shape, was built in 1899 and designed to mark the end of Oyster Point Reef, guiding boaters through treacherous currents in Plum Gut.

It was constructed in the shape of a truncated cone of curved cast iron plates bolted together. Its base is a circular cast iron caisson filled with concrete resting on a leveled portion of the rocky Oyster Point Reef, according to information supplied by East End Lighthouses.

The light stands 64 feet high and has three stories of living quarters, although it hasn’t been occupied since it was automated in the 1960s.

In 1970, the Coast Guard declared it unsafe for servicing and determined that it wasn’t economical to repair it. But a strong reaction from area residents resulted in a Save the Light campaign. After three years out of operation, the iron caisson underwent a major renovation. Work included pumping concrete into the base and sandblasting and coating the structure with an epoxy preservative.

If no eligible group steps up to take over stewardship of the lighthouse, it will be sold to a private bidder.

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