Penfield Light takeover bid buoyed by selectmen
Updated 8:11 pm, Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Board of Selectmen has given the Penfield Reef Lighthouse Committee the go-ahead to make a bid on the historic structure off the town's coastline, but also wants to shine a light on the details of what owning the lighthouse would mean before making a further commitment.
The committee will use funds it raised independently for the $10,000 deposit and to bid, not town funds. However, under the resolution adopted by the selectmen Wednesday, the deposit would be made by interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau on behalf of the town.
The federal government decided earlier this year to put ownership of the historic lighthouse up to bid, after Beacon Preservation, a non-profit group, decided not to go forward with its plans to rehabilitate the structure.
Two bids -- the highest at $40,000 -- have already been submitted for the property.
"We want to understand our legal commitment and our outs," Tetreau said, and asked that the selectmen be provided with a copy of the bid contract that spells out in detail what would be required of the committee if it were to submit the winning bid.
The selectmen also want to see an updated budget for projected repairs and maintenance of the lighthouse, and the committee's plans to secure the necessary funding for the project without coming to the town for money. Once a bid is made, the committee can inspect the lighthouse and draw up a firmer budget.
A closing date for the auction has not been set yet.
Selectman Sherri Steeneck, a member of the lighthouse committee, recused herself from the board's discussion and vote.
"I guess I'm not sure what can be done by us as a town, or any other purchaser," to the lighthouse, said Selectman James Walsh.
Changes to the lighthouse's exterior are regulated by several federal standards for preservation of historic structures, and must be approved by the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Officer.
Sandye Mann, the chairwoman of the preservation committee, said the federal government could also take control of the lighthouse back from the winning bidder, as it is doing to a town in Long Island because it failed to repair a lighthouse it bought.
"It sounds like the federal government is trying to unload maintenance costs on us," Tetreau said, "and yet they could come back anytime and take it back."
Mann said the government is "trying to put some teeth" into requirements that the historic property be maintained by the winning bidder.
She also told the selectmen that one of the bidders -- the federal government keeps bidders' indenties a secret while the auction is ongoing -- read her letter in a local paper regarding the town's interest in buying the lighthouse.
"He apologized for bidding $25,000," Mann said. She said he is a former Navy SEAL who used to live in Connecticut and "didn't want to see it get into the wrong hands"
Mann said the bidder suggested he might withdraw or, perhaps if he were to win, transfer title to the Fairfield committee.
She did not want to reveal Wednesday how much the committee has raised so as not to tip their hand to other bidders.