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North Hempstead looks for grants to save 1877 lighthouse

Stepping Stones Lighthouse is located off the shore

Stepping Stones Lighthouse is located off the shore of Kings Point Park in Great Neck. The lighthouse is seen here on Oct. 3, 2011. Credit: Chris Ware

North Hempstead Town, criticized for not maintaining a crumbling 19th-century lighthouse off the waters of Kings Point, has again applied for a federal grant after an unsuccessful effort last year.

The application to the National Park Service comes nearly four years after the agency threatened to remove the town as the owner of the Stepping Stones Light, which was built in 1877 and given to the town in 2008 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Federal officials said the town did not maintain the structure or make it available to the public, as required by the preservation act.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has written a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis urging him to support the town’s application to the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program. The agency rejected the town’s 2014 application. Winners have yet to be announced for the 2015 cycle. The town is seeking $165,000 in the grant.

“The light marks a major hazard in western Long Island Sound and warns ships and boats of extensive shoals and a series of rocks,” Schumer wrote in his letter to Jarvis. “Funding is needed to halt deterioration and prepare for the next stages of full rehabilitation.”

Restoring the overall structure could cost between $4 million and $8 million, Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said after taking office in 2014. The town is working with the Great Neck Park District and Great Neck Historical Society to raise funds, but Bosworth has said the town plans only to contribute “minimally.” The National Park Service grant requires the town and its partners in the local community to match the federal grant contribution.

Efforts have included the sale of T-shirts and other merchandise to pay for the light’s restoration, through visits to schools and block parties. A fund raising committee started by the community has to date raised $25,000.

But securing federal and state funds has proven tough because the project is not a job-generator, Thomas Devaney, the town’s grants coordinator, said. “We’re not going to hire a lighthouse keeper,” he said.

State officials in December rejected a $500,000 town grant application under the Long Island North Shore Heritage Area Grant program, Devaney said.

Town officials say they are currently planning to build a dock closer to the lighthouse, but the structure itself is deteriorating. The roof has been patched, but the foundation blocks at the base have shifted outward and a wide crack in the floor of the basement has exposed the water.

“It’s not structurally sound,” Devaney said. “We’re trying to do what we can to keep this.”

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