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Multimillion-dollar project will repair Montauk Lighthouse, fortify nearby shoreline

The tower and museum at the Montauk Lighthouse

The tower and museum at the Montauk Lighthouse will stay open during the work, which will occur in two phases and includes recoating the lantern roof. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Montauk Lighthouse has stood tall at the Island’s eastern tip for more than 200 years, and now two projects will ensure the National Historic Landmark stays there for another couple centuries.

A nearly two-year, $1.1 million project to repair cracks and blemishes and refinish the 111-foot-tall structure began in May, according to members of the Montauk Historical Society, which owns the lighthouse. The Army Corps of Engineers is also expected to soon solicit bids for a $24 million state and federal project to fortify the nearby shoreline.

“The structure itself is in very, very good shape,” said Nick Racanelli, a member of the historical society’s Montauk Lighthouse Committee. “But as you can imagine over a couple hundred years, some of it is deteriorating.”

Racanelli, a part-time Montauk resident and owner of a Melville-based construction firm, said the tower and museum will stay open during the work, but visitors will notice scaffolding and workers on hydraulic lifts during the project. Its iconic red and white stripes will also be missing for more than a year while the lighthouse is refinished.

Phase one, which is already underway, calls for repairing the metal at the top of the tower and stripping the paint off the limestone exterior. Repeated freezing and thawing during winter have caused cracks and bulging along its outer surface.

Phase two calls for repairing masonry and mortar joints, and phase three includes repainting the tower. The work is expected to be completed in 2021.

The lighthouse, which funds most of its $1.5 million annual budget through gift shop and admission sales, was commissioned by President George Washington and built in 1796.

“It’s going to hold up another couple of hundred years,” Racanelli said. “The people who built this in the 1700s, they did a remarkable job.”

Racanelli said the historical society has applied for a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which if awarded will cover about one-third of the $1.1 million price tag. The organization has raised about $50,000 and is soliciting corporate sponsorships to cover the rest, Racanelli said.

A revetment project to protect the lighthouse from erosion could begin as early as the end of this year, said Greg Donohue, a member of the Montauk Historical Society and the lighthouse’s erosion control director.

The lighthouse sat 300 feet from the shore when it was built in the 18th century. Today, because of erosion, it is less than 100 feet from the ocean. The work calls for enlarging and improving the rock wall that protects the bluffs from wave energy.

Donohue said that the revetment work will pose no disruption at the lighthouse or at Montauk State Park, but that equipment will be staged at Turtle Cove, a popular beach southeast of the lighthouse.

“We may look bad for a year or two,” Donohue said. “But when we come out, we are going to be shining like no other historic landmark.”

Makeover in Montauk

  • $1.1 million project to strip, repair and refinish the lighthouse will be completed in 2021.
  • $24 million Army Corps of Engineers project to fortify the shoreline will protect the tower from erosion.
  • The museum and lighthouse will remain open during the work, though visitors will see scaffolding, and the iconic red and white stripes will be missing.

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