Future of Menominee lighthouse discussed
Monday, July 01, 2013 7:00 PM
MENOMINEE - The future of the Menominee lighthouse may rest in the decisions made and efforts shown in the weeks and months ahead. The city council met as a Committee of the Whole Monday night to discuss possible options to preserve the 34-foot cast iron icon.
Mayor Jean Stegeman led off by informing the council and public that any decisions made down the road will be done with an eye on the costs and that the project would likely be done incrementally.
City Manager Michael Cramer gave a brief overview of the recent history on how the city was able to take possession of the lighthouse and what its obligations were in doing so.
"The property does come with some provisions from the federal government and from the state about how to preserve and maintain the structure," he said. "There are multiple agencies that are involved in the maintenance and preservation of it."
Once a vital navigational tool for guiding sailing ships and fishing vessels into safe harbor, its function today is largely aesthetic. While the U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the light and lens, the city was deeded possession of the lighthouse and its base in 2008.
Known as the North Pier Light, the lighthouse has been at the mouth of the Menominee River looking out over Green Bay since 1877. It was originally white in color and wasn't painted red until 1927. By 1972 the last of the lighthouse keepers had left and automation took over. The long catwalk above the pier leading to the lighthouse was removed as was the fog horn.
Even though the function of the lighthouse has changed, its attraction to local residents and visitors has remained constant. It's even listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Before the city can move forward on restoration, it needs to know more about the makeup of the lighthouse. There are questions whether there is lead paint on the base and/or tower. And all work on the lighthouse must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.
According to Community Development Director Nancy Douglas, grant money is available to help offset the costs of conducting a professional study and for repairs. The maximum amount for a lighthouse grant is $60,000 and must be met with matching funds. The next opportunity to apply is November.
Before the city can move forward, it must first conduct a study to see just how much work is needed to bring the lighthouse into good repair. Douglas said the study is crucial in order to assure the city is in compliance with all the terms of the deed.
"I don't think you can just go and paint the lighthouse, No. 1," said Douglas. "I think you need permission, you need approvals and you need permits to do it." Those permits would have to come from various agencies including the DNR, EPA and the Department of the Interior through the State Historic Preservation Office.
"I don't want to be perceived as negative," said Douglas. "I agree with the mayor and others that we need to save this icon. I just think we have to recognize it's not going to be cheap, it's not going to be easy and we need to be responsible and honest about what we're trying to do here. But I think we need to do it, for sure."
Michael Cramer was not the manager when the city took possession of the lighthouse but he admits not much has been done with it over the past five years.
"We've done very little in the way of preservation," he said, "and the only real maintenance we've done to date is graffiti (removal) and putting up signs and things like that to keep people off."
While there was a great deal of support shown, not everyone is fully onboard. City Council Member Arnie Organ posed an ominous question to Douglas.
"Isn't one of the options we have to give it back to the Department of the Interior?" He asked.
"You could try. That's a good question," replied Douglas.
Douglas then reminded Organ that the council did vote to accept the lighthouse and the terms that came with ownership. She said she believes it too late to give it back.
"We were told at the time this would not cost the city a penny," said Organ. "It would all be done through volunteers and volunteer donations."
One local group, the Menominee County Historical Society, has already started a lighthouse fund which contains about $1,000.
Society president Lou Ann Borski was at Monday's meeting and spoke strongly in favor of keeping the landmark and talked about what would happen if the government took it back.
"I'm afraid they're (USCG) going to put up a pole with a red light on it," she said. "Where is that going to put Menominee tourism? I think part of that is the lighthouse. People are drawn to the marina and the lighthouse."
Borski said her group would be willing to work with the city and other groups to help raise money.
Council Member Frank Pohlmann said in addition to restoration, the council also needs to answer the question of how it wants to utilize the lighthouse in the long run. He suggested turning the issue over to the Special Projects Committee for more research and to perhaps include funding in the next budget cycle.