Aquinnah committee asks $500,000 from Island towns to save the Gay Head Light

The view from the Gay Head Light, which is threatened by erosion of the coastal bank.
File photo by Steve Myrick

The view from the Gay Head Light, which is threatened by erosion of the coastal bank.

Aquinnah’s Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee has asked for a one-time contribution of 18 percent of the estimated 2014 Community Preservation Act (CPA) annual budgets of the six Island towns to help move the Island landmark. The CPA permits towns to increase real estate taxes and to accept state matching funds flowing from a surcharge on real estate transactions to preserve open space, historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities.

Two weeks ago the lighthouse committee presented a request to the town of Chilmark for $51,854. The amounts to be requested from the other Island towns are: Edgartown, $148,373; West Tisbury, $80,738; Tisbury, $107,435; and Oak Bluffs, $111,598. Aquinnah would commit $90,000, more than 50 percent of its CPA funds, according to Adam Wilson, Aquinnah town administrator. The funds would be targeted specifically to moving the light.

The lighthouse must be moved to prevent it from slipping down the weakening Gay Head Cliffs on which it sits. The light is less than 50 feet from the cliff’s edge, which is receding by about two feet a year. The methods to move the Vineyard landmark are limited, not really in question, and will be left to experienced professional engineers. Where it is moved to and how the move will be paid for remain unresolved.

The total cost of the project is estimated at between $2.5 and $3 million, depending on the cost of the new site.

“One possible site is owned by the town already, and another we would have to buy,” said Mr. Wilson. The distance of the move is another variable in the final cost, he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard owns the beacon and listed it as excess property, enabling the town to acquire it for a nominal sum. Aquinnah expects to be given ownership of the light. At a special town meeting on February 5, Aquinnah voters agreed to buy the light and began the process to purchase, move, and preserve it.

Raising funds from a variety of sources is essential to the success of the project, according to Margaret “Meg” Bodnar, co-chairman of the lighthouse fundraising committee.

“It has only been three and a half months since we began raising funds, and we are well on our way,” she said. “The outpouring of support for the lighthouse has been tremendous. The town of Aquinnah has totally stepped up on this, and now we are starting to reach around the Island.” She said the committee hopes to raise $2 million from individuals, $500,000 from CPA funds, and the other $500,000 from grants, events, and merchandise.

The group’s next fundraising event is a Winter Solstice party, a celebration of light, a community gathering at the lighthouse. Bigger events for next summer are in the planning stage, Ms. Bodnar said.

“It was the $500,000 target figure that came first,” said Derrill Bazzy, chairman of the Aquinnah Community Preservation Committee, which helped put together the CPA requests, of the 18 percent solicitation. “After looking at the towns’ budgets, we realized that it was 18 percent, a good amount to ask for without asking for too little or too much.

“We looked at the amount Aquinnah has spent over the last four years and realized that it was about 18 percent of our CPC budget, purely to the lighthouse. We have been putting $25,000 into an emergency repair fund for the lighthouse for the first three of the last four years and we put in $60,000 this year.”

“The lighthouse belongs to all of us,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s not just a structure for Aquinnah. It’s one of the top three historical landmarks for the entire Island, in my opinion.”