Discouraging words

Maine newspapers are reporting the discouraging news that the Coast Guard has asked the City of Rockland to return some 700 artifacts on loan to the Maine Lighthouse Museum. This comes as the museum, now open for the season, still struggles to meet its financial burdens. There have been reports that Rockland’s city manager has been working toward a financial solution and the museum has asked for a large corporate donation, but the Coast Guard’s concerns over the items it loaned years ago to the late Ken Black could translate to a major blow to the collection.

The Coast Guard at least is willing to talk to the city about a reduced loan of 50 or 60 artifacts to be displayed in a professionally-designed setting, so maybe there’s still some wriggle room. Here’s hoping the museum’s donation efforts pay off and somehow the nation’s best lighthouse collection can stay together.

If the Coast Guard does collect its loaned artifacts, it seems likely (this is just speculation on my part) that some would go into its own planned new museum in New London and the rest would go into storage.

All of this is making life here at the Dire Straits Lighthouse look like a walk in the park. Our hearts go out to Dot Black, Paul Conlin and the rest of the crew still working hard to keep this seminal museum afloat.

-Mike Vogel

Maritime Heritage Act grants

Congratulations to the lighthouse-related groups that won grants today in this year’s round of the Maritime Heritage Act grant process, a highly competitive round that distributed more than $2 million this year thanks to a bit of a last-minute boost from additional ship-scrapping.

California Parks got a grant to do windows and doors at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and the National Lighthouse Museum got money for exhibits. Another grant went to a sister-service project, restoration of the Wood Island Lifesaving Station near the Wood Island Lighthouse in Maine.

A number of grants went to other ship and maritime museum projects across the country. There will be another round of at least $1.7 million next year, with applications presumably due later this year.

These program awards are matching grants, so the groups will have to come up with equal amounts of money. We wish them success, and good projects. Meanwhile, Tim Runyan and Denise Krepp still are leading the effort to get Congress to restore full funding, to the level Congress originally intended when the act was passed in the 1990s; the American Lighthouse Council has provided as strong a letter of support as we could muster, and we urge all of you to let your state’s senators and your local members of Congress know this needs to happen when the Storis Act to do so is introduced again this week.

Here at ALC headquarters in the Dire Straits Lighthouse, we’re also wishing you luck in winning whatever support you may apply for in the next round!

-Mike Vogel

Preservation funding update

Word from Tim Runyan is that the long-awaited announcement of grants under the national Maritime Maritime Heritage Act grant program is due Monday. Good luck to any lighthouse groups that applied — but your odds should have been better.

This round nominally includes $1.7 million in funding divided between maritime preservation and maritime heritage projects, and given the more than a dozen years of pent-up demand it’s far from enough to meet the needs across the entire maritime heritage spectrum. The shame is that the fund should have been twice as large; the Maritime Administration, which oversees the mothball fleet that is the source of the funding, snuck in an amendment to a funding bill in 2010 that lets it keep half of the fund for its own uses (the National Park Service also gets a 15% cut to administer the program and is maximizing its take by making it a multi-year one, but that’s not as egregious as MARAD’s gambit).

Here’s the math: Scrapping of the mothball fleet, now once again financially feasible, generates funds that are supposed to go to the Maritime Heritage Act grant funding. Once resumed, the pot grew to $14 million for this round. Under the amendment MARAD quietly slipped into the 2010 Defense Bill, it kept $7 million (and has used that for its own maritime academies and ships). That left $7 million to be split evenly between heritage education and preservation projects — but NPS gets to keep 15%, up to a max of $500,000 per year, to administer. Instead of one year/$500,000, though, it has made this round a multi-year program ($1.7 mil this year, $1.7 mil for each of the next two years, and the balance in the last year), allowing it to take $500,000 per year. So the “pot” actually is $5,950,000, with NPS keeping $1,050,000.

That’s not so bad if NPS uses that to staff and bolster its Maritime Heritage Program, which seems to be the case. We benefit from that. It also should be noted that ship scrapping continues, with another $800,000 to be transferred by MARAD (after keeping a like amount, of course) and that after the NPS cut there will be another $650,000 ready for the pool.

MARAD and NPS will take a lot of credit for all this when the Secretary of the Interior announces this round of grants, and some of that is deserved. MARAD’s director, others note, already is reaching out to reporters to talk about the great ship-scrapping program that already has netted nearly $76 million total. The real reason, many think, is that MARAD is desperate to head off legislative language now circulating that would subject the ship-sales program to a General Accounting Office audit — and raise questions about how much MARAD is spending to strip and store ship memorabilia, refurbish ship models in DOT offices not open to the public, do oral histories of MARAD functionaries, that sort of thing.

Tim still is championing efforts to get Congress to amend the National Maritime Heritage Act to restore full funding. Please give that your support — and if your local congressman or congresswoman should happen to ask you, “hey, isn’t it great about that maritime heritage funding?” be sure to give them an earful.

In other funding news, the United States Lighthouse Society’s grants committee is pondering an unexpectedly high number of potential applicants for its fledgling grants program, which seems to be the lighthouse preservation┬ácommunity’s pioneering self-help grant-making effort, one that distributes money from the community to lighthouse projects in an organized, formal fashion. There have been other efforts that have channeled government money to such projects and have awarded grants on an ad-hoc basis — USLHS has funded such special requests in the past in addition to doing its own lightship and lighthouse restoration projects — but this program is to be an annual set of awards from a restricted fund set up by USLHS strictly for lighthouse preservation.

The response was overwhelming, and yet another testimony to the needs out there. USLHS reports 27 letters of interest, with the requests totaling about a quarter of a million dollars. About half a dozen organizations that submitted letters of interest will be asked to submit formal applications.

This is a first-step effort, one that’s at least as valuable in setting up the program as it is in helping lighthouses. USLHS still is trying to build the fund to at least $1 million, with the grants to be made from the interest it generates. So with that i mind, this first step will necessarily be a small one and is likely to focus on critical and immediate needs. Anyway, if you applied expect a communication soon.

And here at ALC headquarters in the Dire Straits Lighthouse, we’re watching winter turn to spring. Good luck with the upcoming season, everyone — and an extra measure of luck and hopefully success for the Maine Lighthouse Museum (now open for the season but still trying to raise emergency money and hoping for a 10th anniversary celebration in June) and the National Lighthouse Museum (installing exhibits around Memorial Day and planning a “hard opening” around National Lighthouse Day in August).

-Mike Vogel