Old Field lacks cash to fix lighthouse

The Village of Old Field lighthouse near Port Jefferson Harbor on Long Island's North Shore is in need of major repair work, says village treasurer Andrea Brosnan. Videojournalist: Pattrick Whittle (Jan 30, 2012)

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The Village of Old Field, a peninsular community of exclusive homes and manicured yards that hugs Conscience Bay in one of the toniest corners of the North Shore, is one of Long Island's richest communities.

But in this village of 918 people, named the 35th "Most Expensive Small Town In America" in 2010 by BusinessWeek magazine, officials say there is no cash to repair the community's defining landmark: its lighthouse.

The Old Field Lighthouse, completed in 1869, still guides mariners in Long Island Sound with its red and green lights. It sits atop a boxlike building that doubles as Old Field's Village Hall, where about a dozen people -- all part-timers except the chief code enforcement officer -- conduct village business.

The lighthouse offers arresting views of the Sound and is a pleasant place to carry out Old Field's affairs, but it is also deteriorating, said Michael Levine, the village's mayor.

The building suffers from "spoiled" concrete, its interior walls are rotting, its inside rooms need repainting and its iron cupola needs welding, Levine said.

Village officials said they paid a Westchester County firm $10,000 in 2005 to estimate the cost of repairs; the study found it would cost more than $300,000.

Village officials -- who steward an annual budget of about $1 million in a community that bristles at tax increases -- have balked at the idea of budgeting the repairs, Levine said. He and other officials estimated the repairs would likely cost even more now.

"It's not just a matter of scraping paint off the walls," Levine said. "It's a significant, six-figure project to restore the lighthouse to where it should be, where it used to be. But my village is operating on a shoestring budget."

Old Field, which in 2010 had a median home sale price of $1,446,878 and median household income of $165,398 and issues residents an average annual village tax bill of about $2,000, is one of the island's wealthiest communities.

But several residents agreed that a tax raise or bond issue are probably not in the cards. Village officials said they are looking for federal grants to help restore the lighthouse, but prospects appear slim.

"The village is doing everything it can. Unless they were going to bond it or place a much higher tax on the village, it's going to be difficult to fund the restoration project," said Bill Schaefer, a resident and former village trustee.

The lighthouse was deeded to Old Field by the federal government in 1935 but is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, officials said.

Andrea Brosnan, the village's treasurer, enjoys views of the Port Jefferson ferry from her office window, and hopes the lighthouse building stays strong. But she said she understands that restoring it would be expensive.

"The residents of Old Field own the lighthouse," she said. "It's their decision."

 

Old Field Lighthouse

 

Station established: 1824

Rebuilt: 1869

Relit: 1991

Height: 67 feet above mean high water

Light pattern: Flashing green and red every 30 seconds

Maintained by: U.S. Coast Guard

Owned by: Village of Old Field

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