Plum Island seeks $1.5M for lighthouse repairs

The Plum Island lighthouse. The 34-foot-tall lighthouse, completed

The Plum Island lighthouse. The 34-foot-tall lighthouse, completed in 1869 on the western end of the island, was shut in 1978 and replaced by a light on a steel tower. (March 22, 2005) (Credit: AP )

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center is seeking $1.5 million in federal funds to restore the deteriorating exterior of the island's historic lighthouse and remove hazardous materials from the interior.

Douglas Ports, director of operations at the lab, which, like the island, is owned and operated by the Department of Homeland Security, said recently that the facility has requested funds from the agency for the work.

The 34-foot-tall Plum Island Lighthouse, completed in 1869 on the western end of the island, was shut in 1978 and replaced by a light on a steel tower. The federal government has made periodic repairs since then, but wooden trim on the granite structure is rotted and paint has peeled from wood and metal surfaces.

Ports said the goal is to restore the exterior to its historic appearance and remove interior asbestos and lead paint so staff and visitors can again enter the building.

"It needs some attention," Ports told Newsday during a recent tour of the island. "DHS owns it and DHS is responsible to keep it in condition to preserve the historic significance of the facility."

He added that "we've done a fairly extensive review of the inside to understand the asbestos hazard, so when people are working in there they will know what they're stepping into." The lab also contacted architectural historians to assist in working on rehab plans.

The agency put out a request for information from restoration contractors who came to the island to provide a rough idea of the scope of the work and cost involved.

The estimates were about $1.5 million to stabilize the structure, restore the exterior and make it safe to enter the interior and climb the tower to the lantern room.

Ports said DHS has an agreement in place with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for it to handle a contract for the work. The Corps is developing construction drawings.

As for funding for the work by DHS, Ports said "it's reasonably affordable, so I'm very optimistic. We have an obligation to maintain it, so we have to find the money."

After the project is completed, Ports said, the agency hopes to allow regular public access within the parameters of the high security established after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "I'd love to make it available to the community for use," he said. "There are a lot of people who are interested in lighthouses."

Among them are the officers of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation. The lighthouse's lens has been on display at its Greenport museum since 1994.

Ted Webb, the organization's secretary, said his group visits the lighthouse annually and "every year you see more and more deterioration . . . So we're delighted to hear that" DHS is working on a rehab project.

"We would be happy to put together a crew of volunteers to go out there and do some of the labor involved in maintaining that place," Webb said, or helping DHS interpret it for visitors.

Ports said he will look into the possibility of having the Coast Guard put a new light in the tower so it again could serve as an aid to navigation.

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