North Hempstead Town, which nearly lost ownership of the historic Stepping Stones Light after doing little to maintain it, has been awarded a $165,000 grant for restoration of the deteriorating structure.
The funding from the National Park Service’s National Maritime Heritage Grant is the first federal money awarded to the town since it launched a multimillion dollar campaign to restore the lighthouse in 2014. The project to restore the structure 1,600 yards off Kings Point in Long Island Sound, is expected to cost at least $4 million, Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. No timetable for the work has been set.
The town’s application for a similar grant in 2014 was rejected. North Hempstead must match the grant with $165,000 in town funds, and the money would be used to build a temporary floating dock and ramp, along with storage and a construction staging area.
The park service in 2012 “was absolutely ready to take it back,” Bosworth said Tuesday of the lighthouse ownership. “There hadn’t been any substantial work done.
But the town renewed its commitment to the project “and we got invested right away,” said Bosworth, who took office in 2014. “This goes a long way to assuring that it’s actually going to happen.”
The brick and wood Victorian Second Empire-style lighthouse was built in 1876 and modernized in 1944. The lighthouse is not structurally sound and the foundation’s blocks are shifting outward and a broad crack has opened in the basement floor.
The town took possession of Stepping Stones in 2008, when Jon Kaiman was supervisor, as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Town officials, in their application for ownership, outlined plans to maintain and restore it.
In 2012, the National Park Service threatened to take the light away from the town, recommending that it be transferred to a new owner because the town did little to maintain it or make it available to the public as required by the preservation act. Kaiman told Newsday in 2011 that budgetary concerns and a lack of grant opportunities made it difficult to repair the structure.
“Maintaining the lighthouse has not been our primary function or a priority,” Kaiman, now a candidate for U.S. Congress in the Third Congressional District, said at the time. Federal agencies had looked to appoint Pamela Setchell, the president of the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, as steward of the Stepping Stones Light. Instead, the town in 2014 announced a partnership with the Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society that allowed North Hempstead to keep ownership. About $30,000 has been raised by the historical society through the sale of T-shirts, other merchandise and from private donations.
Catherine Turton, a park service spokeswoman, said in a statement that the town is “currently in good standing” under the terms of the preservation act.”
“After a period of inactivity immediately following the transfer of the Stepping Stones lighthouse, the Town of North Hempstead has made progress in recent years on its plans for the light’s preservation,” she said.
New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to the park service in support of the town’s latest grant application.
North Hempstead last year commissioned a $50,000 engineering report to determine whether it was feasible to build a dock at the lighthouse, or to provide another way to reach the structure, which can only be accessed by boat at high tide. The town has also repaired several holes in the roof to prevent water damage, and spent $30,000 to replace a porthole door in the crow’s nest, officials said.