The future home of the Gay Head Light in Aquinnah will be about 190 feet inland from the westernmost tip of the Island.
The Gay Head Lighthouse advisory committee has been working since early last year to explore options for relocating and restoring the historic lighthouse, which now stands about 50 feet from the cliff.
Members have spent the last two months studying alternative sites in the general area of the lighthouse. On Tuesday, committee member Len Butler presented the results to the Aquinnah selectmen, who unanimously approved the committee’s recommendation.
Two of the sites were eliminated early on, since they did not meet the Coast Guard’s requirement that the lighthouse be high enough to serve as a navigational beacon. A site near the shops and restaurants on Aquinnah Circle was also eliminated, since it would not have allowed for a public space surrounding the light.
The chosen site is on property that was purchased by the town this year using Community Preservation Act funds. It is slightly lower in elevation than the current site, but will be raised to accommodate for the difference.
“This maintains the same orientation in terms of the Circle, so that it doesn’t change the perception of the light as you approach it up State Road, or as you come up Moshup Trail, or at any vantage point from the ocean,” Mr. Butler said. “It’s still in the relatively same position.”
Access to the site will also be similar, although a handicapped-accessible pathway and parking lot will be added to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The entire property, including the original lighthouse foundation, will become a public park. The committee plans to repurpose the original stone foundation as a circular bench to memorialize the spot where the lighthouse has stood since 1856. Four sections around the bench — three white and one red, reflecting the light’s historic signal pattern — will point in the four cardinal directions.
“Our plan is to develop this into what we’re calling, for a better name right now, Lighthouse Park,” Mr. Butler said.
In its new location, the lighthouse will be safe from erosion for at least 140 years, according to historical erosion rates calculated by Byron Stone, a researcher for the United States Geologic Survey. The highest erosion rates are expected in the northern and southern portions of the site.
Mr. Butler said the erosion could eventually endanger Aquinnah Circle itself, and that the road may some day need to be relocated. But he added that erosion could potentially be slowed by drilling wells to divert groundwater into the main aquifer below sea level.
The committee’s recommendation was endorsed by the National Park Service, because it would allow the entire lighthouse to be seen from the water and serve as a point of reference during the day. The park service is reviewing an application to transfer ownership of the lighthouse from the federal government to the town.
The recommendation was also endorsed by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), since it would cause less disturbance than the alternatives.
“They feel that the likelihood of there being significant archeological features in this area is much less than there would be over near the headland of the cliff, which was higher in elevation and probably more significant ceremonially,” Mr. Butler said.
Moving the lighthouse would require digging out a path about three to six feet deep and 30 feet wide, he said, which would cause some disturbance to the area. But he added that the site is mostly meadow and could easily be restored.
Compared to an alternative site farther down the hill, the shorter journey from the cliff could save about $1 million, Mr. Butler said. “So pretty much, a no-brainer.”
Roger Howlett, an abutter, had sent a letter to the selectmen prior to the meeting expressing his concerns about the new site. Although he supports the efforts to save the lighthouse, he worried about privacy, since at least one outdoor shower on his property may be visible from the new location.
“We’re going to end up in people’s vacation videos,” he said. “People just don’t have the same social norms that they used to when it comes to people’s privacy.”
To mitigate the problem, Mr. Butler suggested building some enclosures near Mr. Howlett’s property, at the town’s expense, to block the view. A conceptual site plan that Mr. Butler showed at the meeting also includes a row of cypress trees that would obscure the view from ground level.
“Certainly we’d like to work with you in any way that we can,” Mr. Butler said. “But it’s a situation where a common good may outweigh an individual’s concern.” He invited Mr. Howlett to come to the next meeting of the relocation subcommittee, on August 18, to discuss the options further.
The advisory committee’s next steps will include obtaining special permits from the planning board for siting and land clearing. That process will also include opportunity for public input.
So far, the committee has raised about $1.5 million through community fundraisers, state and municipal programs, and private donations. Mr. Butler said the total cost of relocating and restoring the lighthouse will be about $3 million.