N. Hempstead could get 2nd chance with lighthouse

Stepping Stones Lighthouse, located off Kings Point, has Stepping Stones Lighthouse, located off Kings Point, has been a North Hempstead asset since 2008, but budget constraints have slowed renovations that the town pledged in its 2006 application. (Sept. 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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The Town of North Hempstead and a Huntington nonprofit are considering teaming up to restore a deteriorating historic lighthouse, nearly a year after the federal government said it wanted to transfer ownership to the nonprofit because the town failed to maintain the structure.

That means North Hempstead could retain ownership of the Stepping Stones Light, a working lighthouse built in the 1870s about 1,600 yards off Kings Point in Long Island Sound.

The town acquired the lighthouse in 2008 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, and laid out a plan for restoring and maintaining the structure by seeking out grants and working with nonprofit partners.

But the town has done little to the lighthouse since its acquisition, with town Supervisor Jon Kaiman citing the poor economy, reduced grant opportunities and competing town priorities as reasons. Three years after the acquisition, the town applied for a $400,000 state grant for the structure; a year later it applied for a $500,000 grant and sought funding help from federal representatives. The efforts were unsuccessful.

Last year, the National Park Service, which signed the agreement transferring ownership of the lighthouse to the town, recommended that the lighthouse be transferred to a new owner because the town had not maintained the lighthouse or made it available to the public as specified in the agreement.

The town is still out of compliance, according to the parks service.

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Kaiman said the town had been planning to fix a hole in the roof, but stopped the process once the town received word of the impending transfer last year.

The U.S. General Services Administration identified Pam Setchell, president of the Northeast Lighthouse Preservation Group Ltd. and the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, as the new steward.

Last month, Setchell toured Stepping Stones with a group of town officials to survey its condition. She called the lighthouse "a wreck," and said that conditions had worsened since her last visit in 2011, with additional water damage from the hole in the roof and more rot in the cupola.

A large crack in the foundation and a hole in the floor, exposing the water below, appear to be unchanged from the year before, she said.

Setchell said she was undecided whether her group would be able to take on the ownership of the lighthouse.

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Instead, she said, she wanted to explore working with the town to do the restoration, which she estimated would cost about $4 million. "I really believe that if everybody was to band together, we could at least stabilize it and put together a plan to work towards its future," she said.

Kaiman said he would be open to that idea.

"I suppose if there was an alternative partnership that would benefit the lighthouse itself, we are open to coming up with some plan to make that work," he said.

An NPS spokeswoman said the agency encourages partnerships and would review any proposal set forth. If the partnership doesn't form and a new steward is not identified, the lighthouse will go up for sale to the public, according to the GSA.

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