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Lighthouse Frenzy

Record number of lighthouses are currently up for grabs

Each May, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), offers lighthouses to the public and other entities as part of its mission to deliver value and savings in federal real estate for taxpayers. This year, GSA is offering a record number of lighthouses, including at least six to nonprofits and government entities and at least four to the public through auctions.

Lighthouses have long served as beacons for those at sea or on inland waters, marking dangerous coastlines and underwater hazards such as rocks and reefs as well as marking safe entries to harbors. As technology advanced, and lighthouses became less essential to navigation, lighthouses often fell into neglect or were demolished.

While the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) may continue to maintain active aids to navigation at or near specific lighthouses, the structures themselves are often no longer critical to the USCG’s mission needs. To protect the history and heritage of lighthouses, Congress passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000.

The NHLPA recognizes the significance of historic lighthouses for maritime traffic, coastal communities, nonprofits and lighthouse enthusiasts. The NHLPA program - a partnership among the USCG, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS), and GSA - transfers these historic landmarks from the USCG to new owners.

Initially, under the NHLPA, lighthouses may be transferred at no cost to federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits, educational agencies, and community development organizations. These entities must be financially able to maintain the historic light station, and make the station available for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes for the public at reasonable times and under reasonable conditions. This process starts with GSA issuing a Notice of Availability (NOA) and is followed by an application review by the NPS.

If a new owner is not found through the NOA process, the lighthouse is offered for competitive sale to the public by GSA through an online auction. This year, GSA has issued NOAs for six historic lighthouses in five states.

  • Lynde Point Lighthouse, Old Saybrook, Connecticut

  • Nobska Lighthouse, Falmouth (Woods Hole), Massachusetts

  • Plymouth/Gurnet Lighthouse, Plymouth, Massachusetts

  • Warwick Neck Light, Warwick, Rhode Island

  • Little Mark Island and Monument, Harpswell, Maine

  • Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse, Erie, Pennsylvania (NOA period recently closed)

Additionally, GSA is offering four historic lighthouses for sale by auction.

  • Penfield Reef Lighthouse, Fairfield, Connecticut

  • Stratford Shoal Light, East Setauket, New York

  • Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light, Cleveland, Ohio

  • Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light, Chassell, Michigan

Since the NHLPA program’s inception in 2000, over 150 lighthouses have been conveyed to new owners, including 81 lights to local governments and nonprofit entities through no-cost transfers and about 70 sold via public auction, which raised over $10 million dollars for the USCG to reinvest in its Aids to Navigation mission. (Auction sales have ranged from $10,000 to $933,888.)

Costs for upkeep of lighthouses are relative to what the new owner plans to do. A total restoration could be thousands of dollars while a simple cleaning is much less. New owners should expect to have to paint, clean, and possibly restore broken or missing items. Most lighthouses do not have any utilities, so there would be a cost associated with making the lighthouse livable.

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