Maritime grants for lighthouses

It’s encouraging to see how many lighthouse projects benefited from the Maritime Heritage Grants program this year, even as the fight continues in Congress to restore full funding (see previous posts).

Of the 34 awards announced by the National Park Service and Maritime Administration recently,  seven involved lighthouses. Here’s the list:

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum won $50,000 to help build an archaeological research and education center; while that’s not strictly lighthouse, it does benefit a very good lighthouse museum’s efforts to expand maritime knowledge through the marvelous shipwreck archaeology and conservation work Kathy Fleming, Rick Cain and the rest of the St. Augustine crew are doing.

The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath won $50,000 to build a simulated lantern room to house and interpret a lens in its collection.

The Mason County Historical Society in Michigan got a $52,335 grant to clean, preserve and display Fresnel lenses in its collection.

The Michigan SHPO got $123,000 for historic structures reports and a public education project centered on the state’s offshore lights.

The Minnesota Historical Society got $68,000 for a cultural landscape report at Split Rock Lighthouse.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities won a $50,000 grant to paint the outside of the Cape May Lighthouse.

The Town of North Hempstead, NY got $165,000 to take the first steps toward rehabbing the Stepping Stones Lighthouse in Long Island Sound not far from the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.

The folks at NPS have told us they’d like to see more lighthouse-related applications next time around, so keep that in mind!

Here at the Dire Straits Lighthouse, we didn’t win anything. We never do. We’d been hoping for some funding to replace the old pot-bellied stove we rely on when the ice is thick on the strait and not even the cockroaches are moving. It’s been spilling embers on the old wooden floor and, as usual, we’re expecting bad things to happen.

But if they do, it’s not as if we’re all that needed any more up here in Dire Straits. There hasn’t been any shipping to speak of since the beaver-pelt plant over at Moot Point shut down and threw all three of the region’s wage-earners out of work. Maybe the folks over at NPS heard about that, and just sort of wrote us off. Wouldn’t be the first time. Instead they’re throwing money at Keeper Lee over at Split Rock to fund something called a “cultural landscape,” whatever that is. Around this station, the only cultural landscape is an old dog-eared copy of Cap’n Billy’s Whiz-Bang.

Sorry we’re a little late reporting out this week-old news, but we have to row the station dory way over to the village at Goose Neck to pick up any mail. That’s a two-day row in a leaky boat, which probably also needs a grant because the Lighthouse Service wrote us off long ago, too. If you don’t hear from us in a couple of days, though, don’t worry — and don’t even think of calling the Coast Guard to check up on us. Those boys over at the Neck lost their compass so they’re not quite sure where we are anyway, and the Coast Guard wrote that station off a long time ago too.

It didn’t help that the last of the carrier pigeons died off just after bringing word of the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance conference down in Traverse City this mid-May. I’ll try to register for that online, but that’s hard too — I “borrowed” this old extra computer from the Forest Service, but I can’t find any instructions in all the old Lighthouse Service manuals we still have on the shelf. Ranger Rick over at the FS tower trained one of the geese to sort of help me out, but the dang thing keeps migrating and it takes forever to get anything typed.

Well, that’s all the woe from Dire Straits for now. I’ve got to go feed the station cow. She heard about our grant rejection, and now all I’m getting is curdled milk.

Keep your lights on.

The Fight for Funding

I know this seems like an annual struggle. That’s because it is, unfortunately, and it will be until the full finding Congress originally intended is restored to the Maritime Heritage Grant Program that was steamrolled by the Maritime Administration to MARAD’s own financial advantage.

Tim Runyan of the Maritime Alliance again is leading the charge on Capitol Hill, and he could use help. Please consider contacting your senators and your representatives in Congress to support the STORIS Act, which restores funding and requires more transparency in MARAD’s handling of the money. ALC will write and lobby, but input from local groups is important. The pressure already has forced MARAD to increase the share of the ship-scrapping funds that go to the maritime preservation and education programs that originally were supposed to get them.

Tim has drafted a prototype letter. It’s full of background and information, and you can use that in developing your own, and joining the fight. His is directed toward Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and is the ranking member of the subcommittee considering the bill, Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. You can adapt it to your own elected representatives or their staffs. Your letter emailed to Sen. Booker’s staff also would be helpful — email them to;; or  and  cc to Tim:

Here’s the letter:

Dear Senator Booker,

On behalf of the board, staff, volunteers, and community that supports (name of museum), I write to you to seek your support for the “Ships to be Recycled in the States” (STORIS) Act, (S. 1511; H.R. 2876). I ask that you assure the inclusion of the STORIS Act in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Section 4 (c) (C) of the Act restores a competitive public grants program in support of America’s maritime heritage. Our non-profit organization could benefit from this competitive grant program. Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ) has requested that the STORIS Act be included in the 2017 NDAA.

The (your organization) is devoted to preserving and interpreting to the public America’s maritime heritage. The maritime heritage community is composed of more than 1,000 non-profit organizations in more than 40 states. This includes historic naval ships, maritime museums, tall ships for sail training, historic lighthouses, maritime historical societies, education, and preservation organizations. Thousands of veterans serve as staff or volunteers.

The STORIS Act is a proposed amendment to Public Law 103-451, the National Maritime Heritage Act of 1994. This act calls for a pool of unappropriated funds equal to 25% of the proceeds from the scrapping of ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (“mothball fleet”), to be distributed by the National Park Service to maritime non-profit institutions, and state and local governments through a competitive matching grants program. There is no impact on the budget.

The National Maritime Heritage Act reflected an historic and deep recognition by Congress of the importance of our country’s maritime history. On a practical level, the National Maritime Heritage Act also sought to provide assistance to those non-government organizations dedicated to preserving surviving reminders of that past, the ships, the artifacts and the stories that are so vital in telling our unique maritime story to new generations of Americans and so economically important to the cultural tourism sector on which so many communities depend.

An amendment was added to the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the Maritime Administration to use all of the funds solely for the preservation of property it owns. This resulted in reduced funding to maritime heritage institutions in more than 40 states by 50%. The STORIS Act (S. 1511 and H.R. 2876), restores the original formula of 50% for MARAD, 25% to maritime academies, and a full 25% to the National Park Service-administered grants program for maritime preservation and educational projects. The STORIS Act also seeks more transparency in the ship-scrapping process.

I respectfully request that you include the STORIS Act in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Name                                                                                                                                                        Executive Director

Droning on …

Discussion in the cold winter months at the Dire Straits Lighthouse has turned to these new-fangled drones, which we’ve heard about even though the Lighthouse Service has yet to issue instructions on how to clean them. Hope they’re not brass.

Anyway, some of our fellow keepers are having problems with them that seem even worse than those pesky bird strikes. Don Terras down at Grosse PointLH had one explode the other day, showering plastic shrapnel over a 50-foot radius. Luckily, there was nobody below. Rick Cain even farther down at St. Augustine LH had an assistant injure an arm warding a crashing drone away from a visitor’s head. And over at Split Rock, Lee Radzak had a couple of near-misses and so many drone visits he had to develop a written no-drone policy.

I guess that means I can never talk to visitors at his lighthouse, because my wife says I do drone on. But if anyone else has a horror story or comment on this emerging issue (which can only get worse thanks to Christmas sales of these things), we’re all ears.

Up here at Dire Straits, it’s not much of a problem yet. We can’t afford drones. Heck, we can barely afford the mosquitoes.

-Mike Vogel, Keeper

In memoriam, Richard Moehl

Sad news from Michigan: Terry Pepper of GLLKA reports that long-time GLLKA president Dick Moehl died at home sleep last night. He was a superb lighthouse community leader, a can-do guy with a winning attitude and an unmatched enthusiasm in meeting and surmounting challenges, and he will be deeply missed by the entire lighthouse preservation movement.

Dick will be remembered for the “Miracle of the Straits,” bringing the St. Helene Lighthouse back from ruin. He ferried scouts to the island for volunteer work that included many Eagle Scout projects, and his contagious love of that lighthouse and of the work that went into restoring it ignited a love of lighthouses and the island in all who worked with him.

As the guiding light of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association for nearly 30 years, Dick built that organization into a major binational leader in lighthouse preservation. He earned many honors from the preservation community and his state along the way, including the Ross Holland Award, the American Lighthouse Council’s lifetime achievement award.

There are no memorial details at present. But a leading light has gone out in this movement, as Dick crosses the bar. May God rest his soul, and may his example still shine for all of us who remain.

Mike Vogel

Maine MuseumProgress

Good news: The Maine Lighthouse Museum has a new extension agreement with the Coast Guard and the City of Rockland for the artifacts on loan to the waterfront museum.

There will be a full inventory of the artifacts in the springtime, after which the museum hopes to sign a more long-term agreement that would continue the loan of the lenses and other items gathered by the late Ken Black. The agreements are a major and critically needed step for the museum, which houses the largest publicly-displayed collection of lenses and lamps in the United States. While the museum itself owns many artifacts, the loaned items are a significant part of its displays.

The museum still has financial needs, though. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Maine Lighthouse Museum, P.O. Box 1116, Rockland ME 04841. You can also donate online at the museum’s web site.

ca. WWI Portable Searchlight Needed for Exhibit

Lee Radzak at Split Rock Lighthouse sent the following:

The Minnesota Historical Society is designing a new World War One exhibit and they are looking for a ca. WWI portable searchlight for loan for the exhibition. If anyone is aware of one or knows if there is one they could get on loan would you please contact me and I will inform the exhibits department.

I believe that BBT was making some about that time period and, with the advent of air mail and air travel aero-beacons were coming more into use. I have a historic photo but can not attach it here.  Let me know if you want to see it and I can email you a copy.

Lee can be contacted at

Lighthouse death in France

Sometimes things go tragically wrong. They did Thursday at the Cap Ferret Lighthouse near Bordeaux, where a 12-year-old girl fell to her death.

She was not a casual visitor; Lilou Gaude was a member of her father’s acrobatic troupe, and she was performing while suspended from the tower on a rope. The accident occurred during filming for a French television show that features France’s most loved monuments. Details remain sketchy. The girl apparently died before ambulances reached the scene.

The Cap Ferret tower is listed as 53 meters tall. Lighthouse deaths are rare, but sad for all of us.

-mike vogel

Action alert: Maritime Heritage Program funding

OK, gang, please call your senators and representatives and let them know you would deeply appreciate their support of the STORIS () Act, which would restore funding for maritime preservation and education programs to the level Congress originally envisioned and thereby help the entire maritime heritage community.

The bill has been introduced, and it would help immensely if you could get support from your elected officials by letting them know that organizations in their states or districts could get some help and are anxious to see this pass for the benefit of the entire cause. The Senate bill number is S.1511, and it has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. We’ll pass along the House bill number when it’s assigned.

Below is a copy of the sponsor’s press release, forwarded by Tim Runyan of the National Maritime Alliance. It includes Louisiana-specific language because of the sponsors, but you can mine it for information on the act. A call, email or letter to your home-state folks would help. Mine’s already on the way.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) today introduced the Ships to Be Recycled in the States (STORIS) Act, legislation to reform the domestic marine recycling industry. Their legislation would improve the domestic ship recycling industry and promote transparency by requiring reports from Maritime Administration (MARAD) and an audit by the Government Accountability Office. Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) is introducing the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Maritime Administration receives millions of dollars in federal funding, but they’ve never reported how the sales money is spent or how the agency awards contracts,” Vitter said. “Ship recycling is an important part of our domestic maritime industry, and these reforms would improve federal contracting, cut government waste, and help create jobs in Louisiana.”

“Louisiana directly benefits from the Maritime Administration—hundreds work in ship recycling facilities and many state museums receive maritime grants,” said Cassidy. “There have been concerns that the agency receives millions in federal funding but lacks transparency. The STORIS Act will strengthen oversight over the agency and help create more jobs for Louisiana workers.”

“Americans expect the federal government to operate in their best interest,” said Graves. “We have found multiple instances where the U.S. Maritime Administration has failed to maximize the return on investment on the sale of retired federal vessels by not accepting the highest bid on a number of contracts and not fulfilling its obligation to reinvest these funds in our merchant mariner workforce. This bill will prevent MARAD from leaving millions of dollars on the table in regard to ship recycling contracts and require that we have the workforce we need to increase global trade and exports from Louisiana.”

Current law requires all excess government vessels to be sold to domestic marine recyclers to be dismantled. A portion of funding from the sales goes toward the Vessel Operations Revolving Fund, federal and state maritime academies, and the maritime heritage grant program. The STORIS Act would make sure that the required funding goes to federal and state maritime academies and to heritage grants funding to the Department of Interior. It would also require MARAD to issue an annual report on how its money is spent and publicize its ship recycling agreements.

Additionally, the STORIS Act creates jobs by ensuring that all vessels can be dismantled in the United States in compliance with U.S. environmental and safety laws, and are not exported where those safety rules do not apply.

The STORIS Act is named in recognition of the former Coast Guard Cutter STORIS, which was dismantled in Mexico in 2013 in violation of the current law.

-Mike Vogel