Aquinnah civic group focuses on Gay Head Lighthouse move

Len Butler, chairman of the Save the Ligthouse building subcommittee, pointed out four possible locations to move the lighthouse. — Photo by Christy Aumer

The air was optimistic on Tuesday night at the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc. (AGHCA) annual reception held on the grounds of the Aquinnah town hall. The formal program focused on the “Keeping on Shining” campaign, an effort to move the Gay Head Lighthouse back from the eroding Gay Head cliffs, and on four possible locations where it might go.

Over 50 people attended the reception, including members of the volunteer lighthouse committee, town officials, and residents who spoke about their emotional ties to the Gay Head lighthouse.

The AGHCA is a not-for-profit corporation that encourages historical and environmental preservation in Aquinnah.

In his introductory remarks, AGHCA president Larry Hohlt spoke about the importance of the light and its place in the fabric of the town.

Throughout the meeting, members of the town-appointed Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee Aquinnah spoke about their plans to help raise funds for the lighthouse move and awareness of the condition of Gay Head Lighthouse.

Aquinnah selectman Beverly Wright, chairman of the committee, said she hasn’t met anyone that doesn’t want to save the Gay Head Lighthouse. But, she said the committee needs financial assistance to preserve the lighthouse.

The committee hopes to raise $3 million in funds to relocate and restore the Gay Head Lighthouse. Meg Bodnar, chairman of the committee’s fundraising subcommittee, said the committee has between $3000 to $4000 in donations.

Last month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the light one of “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in America. However, the recognition did not come with a monetary award.

Len Butler, chairman of the building subcommittee, said there are four possible new locations for the lighthouse: two town-owned properties and two private parcels of land. Mr. Butler said the distance the lighthouse would need to be moved ranges from 130 feet to 600 feet. Elevation changes vary from at least 6 to 8 feet and at most 16 to 20 feet.

The more distance the lighthouse needs to move, he said, the more expensive it will be.

Deciding on a location for the lighthouse depends on four points of criteria, Mr. Butler said. It needs to be suitable, sensible, sustainable, and accessible. There were also several cost factors. For example, site acquisition, site preparation and engineering, foundation, moving the structure, and finishing site work.

Currently, the lighthouse sits about 50 feet from the edge of the cliff. According to committee members, moving experts require about 30 feet to move the lighthouse safely.

Mr. Butler said the projected move date is in late fall 2014 or early spring 2015. He expects the move to take around four to six weeks, including site preparation.

One of the more lengthy aspects of moving the Gay Head Lighthouse is obtaining ownership. According to Mr. Butler, it could take about a year.

“The application is lengthy,” he said. “They [the Coast Guard] need to know how you’re going to maintain it, operate it, accessibility to the lighthouse.”

The town of Aquinnah plans to take ownership of the lighthouse after the Coast Guard lists the Gay Head Lighthouse as excess property, scheduled for August 1, according to Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson.

According to several committee members, the moving company of choice for the red brick beacon is International Chimney Inc. based out of New York, the same company now moving the Schifter House on Chappaquiddick. The company moved the Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket six years ago.

Many of those who attended the reception spoke of their fondness for the light.

Roger Howlett and his wife Ann-Marie attended the reception Tuesday night. The couple moved to Aquinnah from Lakeville eight years ago.

“When we first moved here, we thought, ‘How are we going to sleep?'” Mr. Howlett said of the sweeping beam. “But now, we can’t imagine going to sleep without it.”

In April, the Coast Guard announced plans to change the rotating beacon to a flashing LED fixture. The plans didn’t sit well with many Aquinnah residents who objected.

Last month, the Coast Guard announced they had found a replacement DCB-224 optic, and the familiar, sweeping red and white beam will remain.

“We see it on our back deck every night,” Mr. Howlett said of the lighthouse. “We live in its shadow.”