Fire Island Lighthouse tower, damaged by storm, probably won't reopen before summer, official says
It's likely that needed emergency repairs to the weather-damaged Fire Island Lighthouse will now impact at least part of the summer tourist season, but officials are hopeful that alternative programing — including a virtual tour of the now-closed 168-foot lighthouse tower — will help stem the tide.
"It's disappointing," Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society executive director Tony Femminella said Friday of the closure, resulting from exterior damage caused by a storm earlier this month. "But, we'll reinvent ourselves and move forward from there."
While other areas of the lighthouse site — the Keepers Quarters Museum, the lens building, boat house and gift shop — have remained open, the tower itself and a portion of the surrounding terrace have been closed since a storm caused an exterior sprayed-concrete panel to separate from the structure, Fire Island National Seashore Superintendent Alexcy Romero said.
Romero said repairs to the tower, which dates to 1858, had been in planning for the past 18 months, but that the storm damage accelerated the necessary improvements.
The current sprayed-concrete surface had been applied in the 1980s, Romero said, and it protects the some 800,000 bricks from damaging salt-air erosion.
The emergency work, which will include placement of wire mesh netting used to prevent rock slides and rockfalls, will cost "under $1 million," Romero said.
He said the amended contract for the repair work has been submitted to the regional office for approval, and it remains pending with no estimate on when the work will begin.
"Probably we'll be into the middle of the summer season," Romero said of when the emergency work is completed and the tower can reopen to visitors. "It's definitely going to impact the bottom line."
Though Femminella and the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, which runs daily operations at the site, declined to estimate the potential revenue loss, admission to the lighthouse tower is $10 for adults, and $5 for seniors and children 12 and under.
Admission to other areas of the site remains free.
Femminella said the preservation society is working on new programs to help subsidize the projected revenue loss, including virtual tower tours for elementary school groups that visit the lighthouse.
He said the usual tours have three parts: historical lessons on lifesaving measures needed to save passengers and crews from sinking ships in the 1800s; a nature walk through the grounds to see vegetation and wildlife; and a tower tour, which will now be replaced by a virtual tour.
In addition, Femminella said, enhanced nature walks for visitors are being planned, including dusk "lantern tours" originating at Robert Moses Field No. 5.
And the lighthouse's light still shines: Femminella said it's never turned off.
He said those wanting to donate or become a member of the lighthouse preservation society could visit the lighthouse website at www.fireislandlighthouse.com.
Meanwhile, Romero said he's hopeful the impact will be minimal.
"We were already planning for a long-term solution," he said.
"I've used this analogy, that it's almost like you have peeling paint on the side of your house and then you get that gust of wind and all of a sudden you have paint chips all over the floor," Romero said. "We anticipated this, we were preparing for this, but then that gust of wind came along, and now we're forced to deal with the emergency repairs it's caused in addition to the work we already planned for."