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Connecticut lighthouse awaits new owner

Two non-profit organizations show interest in 122-year-old beacon and Coast Guard will decide soon

Two Connecticut non-profit organizations have expressed interest in obtaining ownership of the Saybrook Breakwater Light.

Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse has welcomed vessels into the mouth of the Connecticut River since 1886.

The lighthouse has been deemed disposable property by the Coast Guard, according to Paula Santangelo, director of General Services Administration New England Region.

Beacon Preservation of Ansonia, Conn., and Belzer Cacoethes Israel Inc. of Westport, Conn., were sent applications Oct. 23 to begin the process of who will own the 122-year-old offshore lighthouse, according to Bill Brookover, historical architect for the National Park Service.

“We want them to return the forms by Jan. 12, so they have 90 days,” says Brookover. The rules are set by the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, which was established in 2000.

There are four elements to the application: the organization must explain how it will physically take care of the lighthouse; how it will use it; how the organization will educate the public about the history of lighthouses; and how the organization will support it financially. Each part of the application is worth 25 points, and at the end of the 60-day review of the applications, the points will be totaled up. Whoever has more will be rewarded the transfer of the property at no cost.

“Often, once we score them, we give them a chance to improve the application, sort of a second chance,” says Brookover. “But after the initial process, if there is one clear winner, we forward that to our Washington [D.C.] office.”

From there, Brookover says it is hard to determine how long it will take to hear back from them.

“If neither applicant is suitable for us, we will put the lighthouse up for auction to the public,” says Brookover. “We have to ensure they will be able to care for it forever.”

However, there are several problems with Breakwater (also called Saybrook Outer Light) that can make it costly and difficult to maintain for a non-profit organization. The light is located at the end of a half-mile-long jetty at the entrance of Old Saybrook Harbor, and can only be accessed by land by crossing over private property, which is not open to the general public. The lighthouse remains a popular attraction by water and is displayed on the Connecticut “Preserve the Sound” license plates.

Breakwater Light was first illuminated June 15, 1886, and is the younger sister of Lynde Point Lighthouse, or Saybrook Inner Light, located inside the harbor. Breakwater was automated in 1959 and the Coast Guard started standing watch at Lynde Point, but would only monitor that station in particularly heavy weather, according to Jeremy D’Entremont, author of “The Lighthouses of Connecticut.” The Coast Guard completed $64,000 in renovations in 1996, updating exterior painting and completing the removal of a 500-gallon fuel tank. While it is boarded up and could use extensive work, it still remains a popular symbol for the town and the state.

Since it is still used as a navigational station, whichever group wins must give the Coast Guard access so the agency can maintain the light and foghorn.

“If we don’t receive any applications back, the earliest it could go to auction would be this summer,” says Brookover.

This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.