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Request to preserve Plum Island lighthouse, Fort Terry

Members of Southold’s Historic Preservation Commission are requesting the town designate the Plum Island lighthouse and Fort Terry as town landmarks to put pressure on the federal government to better maintain the historical sites.

Ted Webb, who narrates the annual East End Seaport Museum lighthouse tour, noticed that the lighthouse is “deteriorating very seriously,” commission chairman Jamie Garretson said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. Commission member Anne Surchin also attended the work session.

“This would give us authority from the Town of Southold to discuss with the federal government the aspect of doing something to save or properly maintain the structures,” Mr. Garretson said.

The town does not own Plum Island, but “the way the future is going it looks like it’s going to become part of the Town of Southold,” Mr. Garretson said.

The town did, however, have jurisdiction to pass a law that established two new zoning districts on the island. One is a research district that includes the existing animal disease center — which is set to move to Kansas — and the surrounding 160 acres. The other is a conservation district that does not allow development on the island’s remaining 600 acres.

Mr. Garretson said the commission is following the same logic the town did in changing the zoning when it comes to making the landmark designations.

Local lighthouses are like “jewels” Mr. Garretson continued. The Plum Island lighthouse needs to be preserved for future generations, Mr. Webb said.

“To let one fall into the sea would be a great embarrassment, especially if we didn’t at least try to do something,” he said.

The U.S. Senate has yet to vote on the Preserve Plum Island Act, which it received in July after it was passed in the House. The bill is meant to block the island’s sale to the highest bidder.

Both the lighthouse and Fort Terry are already on the national and state registers of historic places, commission members said.

Mr. Russell said he spoke to facility managers at Plum Island who had a historic preservation specialist look at the lighthouse and found its estimated restoration cost to be $1.5 million. The structure’s iron and bell tower need to be refurbished, the supervisor said he learned. The funds are included in the annual budget, “but it just simply gets removed,” Mr. Russell said, calling it a “federal budget issue.” He said he brought this to the attention of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office to secure the funding.

The supervisor said the town will look into the legality of making the landmark designations.

Photo credit: Julie Lane, file

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