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With preservation plan OK’d, city waits for lighthouse PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 18:39

Council approves ‘road map’ for repairing, maintaining light in preparation for obtaining ownership of landmark

    The Port Washington Common Council last week approved a lighthouse preservation plan, and with that completed what it must do to acquire and protect one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
    The 175-page plan drafted by Legacy Architecture Inc. of Sheboygan provides what officials called a “road map” to preserving the 82-year-old north breakwater light once the federal government transfers ownership of the lighthouse to the city— an initiative that is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1 million that will be paid with grants and private funding.
    “Once that conveyance occurs, we will hit the ground running,” Jennifer Lehrke of Legacy Architecture told the council, referring to preservation work.
    Last year, the city received approval from the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior to acquire the light under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, which allows the federal government to transfer ownership of some lighthouses to local entities that will care for them. But the formal transfer of the lighthouse to the city — something officials had hoped would have been completed by now — has yet to occur.
    “We don’t know when conveyance will happen, but it’s coming,” Lehrke said.
    Also pending is an application to have the lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places, something Lehrke said should be approved by next summer.
    The lighthouse is in “generally good condition,” she said, and the plan is to make repairs and preserve the structure, which was built in 1935 and has served as a navigation aid since then.
    “Basically the plan is to keep the historic stuff and preserve it,” Lehrke said. “We don’t want to make any radical changes because it is an icon of the city.”
    One of the highest priorities is repairing nine broken portholes to make the lighthouse weathertight. That project is estimated to cost $30,000, and Mayor Tom Mlada said he is confident the city will have raised the money by the end of the year.
    “Repair is always the first option, as opposed to replacement,” Lehrke said.
    In addition, small holes in the steel superstructure must be patched and the structure needs to be painted, she said.
    The city had hoped to provide public access to the lighthouse, but that will be more difficult than first thought, officials said.
    “We had hoped to have a strong component of public access, but that will be a challenge,” Mlada said. “Preservation is paramount to public access, and unfortunately we may be hamstrung by that.”
    Currently, an exterior ladder provides access to the base of the steel superstructure that sits atop a 16-foot-tall concrete base. From there, an interior ladder provides access to the top of the tower. Lehrke described that climb as harrowing, but said the view from top of the light more than 60 feet above the water is spectacular.
    “These historic light towers were just not designed to accommodate public access,” she said. “It may not be as simple as we thought.”
    One option, Lehrke said, would be to create a removable staircase that for several months of the year would provide access to the base of the superstructure.
    The city has already invested $20,000 — $18,000 for the preservation plan and $2,000 for the National Register of Historic Places application — in the lighthouse acquisition and preservation initiative    and has benefitted from the sale of lighthouse ornaments, which raised about $15,000, and other donations, Mlada said.

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