Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
The following letter was sent to Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
I am writing in regard to the status of the Gay Head Light tower on Martha’s Vineyard. Since its original construction in 1856, this lighthouse has safely guided ships away from the dangers of the Island’s rocky coast. Today, this iconic landmark is at serious risk of succumbing to the same natural elements that give Martha’s Vineyard its recognizable beauty. The land on which the light tower is situated is eroding at a rate of nearly two feet per year, and only 50 feet now remain between the tower and the approaching cliffs. If Gay Head Light is not relocated, Martha’s Vineyard will undoubtedly lose an historic emblem within just a few short years.
Gay Head Light stood watch during New England’s busiest years of nautical traffic, guiding everything from traders navigating eastern waterways to whaling ships heading out to sea. However, this lighthouse is far more than a beacon for approaching ships. It has become an essential component of the local economy — an economy which remains strongly tied to the tourism industry. Thousands of visitors are attracted to the tower each year for its panoramic views of Vineyard Sound and the Island.
To date, the tower remains the property of the U.S. Coast Guard and is leased to and maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. While the museum has coupled with the town of Aquinnah and individual donors to finance supplemental restorations in recent years, it is imperative that drastic preservation efforts begin immediately. These efforts would be further encouraged by the transfer of property from the Coast Guard to a local entity or partnership, including the town, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay head (Aquinnah) or the Museum, as authorized under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. This act permits the U.S. General Services Agency (GSA) to transfer ownership of one dozen lighthouses no longer considered by the U.S. Coast Guard to be “mission critical” to local governments, nonprofit organizations, historic preservation groups or community development organizations each year before placing the lighthouses up for bid for private ownership.
It is my understanding that the Coast Guard has expressed its intentions to transfer the Gay Head Lighthouse in the near future but has not yet reported the tower as excess property. Such a report would be the first step in the transfer of ownership. Given the rate at which the tower property is eroding, I am respectfully requesting that the Coast Guard report Gay Head Light as surplus so as to expedite the property transfer. Further delay may lead to irreversible consequences, including physical damage to the lighthouse and adverse impacts on the local economy of Martha’s Vineyard. The town of Aquinnah has already formed an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives from the town, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Museum, and other community stakeholders to plan for the most efficient and expedient path toward restoration once the property is transferred.
Thank you in advance for your careful consideration to this matter and I look forward to receiving your response.
Cong. William R. Keating