A Bridgeport-based group hopes to become the new owner of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse, the historic beacon off Fairfield's shoreline
Connecticut Community Boating, a non-profit group, is in "full-fundraising mode" according to Chris German, to achieve the ownership goal. Bidders need to put down $10,000 in order to be eligible to bid.
In 2008, the National Parks Service took applications from non-profit groups interested in taking over the lighthouse, which dates back to 1874, and the town submitted one of two applications received. However, the lighthouse was awarded to an organization named Beacon Preservation, which later became embroiled in a dispute over the bottom lands and never took ownership.
The lighthouse was then put out to bid in 2011, but a town committee formed to raise funds for its purchase raised only about $22,000 for a bid. The winning bid was $45,000, but it was not accepted by the federal government "because it did not met the government's expectation of value for the property," Patrick Sclafini, public affairs officer with the General Services Administration's New England Region, said in 2012.
The historic landmark is now going back on the auction block, most likely in August, Sclafani said.
"If we won, we would hope to make it one of three lighthouses we hope to maintain as public resources," German said of his group's plans. "It would be restored to serviceable condition and we would provide rides out to it via our fleet of vessels from the Bridgeport boat basin."
German said the plan includes establishing a group of volunteers who would assist the Coast Guard in maintaining the lights as navigational beacons and provide educational programming about the lighthouses. The other two Connecticut lighthouses being put up for sale are in Saybrook, at the mouth of the Connecticut River, and the New London Ledge light at the mouth of the Thames.
"Pretty lofty goal, I know, but we are uniquely positioned to be able to make this happen," German said. The community boating group already have the boats, the know how, and the 501c3 designation, he said.
In 2011 , the Penfield Reef Lighthouse Preservation Committee estimated it would cost as much as $90,000 to acquire the property, and another $452,000 to make needed repairs to the structure. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and no changes can be made to its exterior without approval from the state's Historic Commission.
The town committee exploring the lighthouse acquisition is expected to begin meeting again shortly, according to the first selectman's office.
A public-access program, Connecticut Community Boating provides, among other things, a free junior maritime program, sailing instruction and kayak instruction, as well as a learn to swim program for inner city youth. Services are offered free.