BY MARCY SHORTUSE - The wait has been long and the paint is still peeling, but it looks like the Gasparilla Island Range Light will eventually be ours.
Sharon McKenzie, the executive director of the Barrier Island Parks Society, said on Wednesday that the Department of Defense has sent a letter to the United States Coast Guard called a “letter of relinquishment.” It basically says that they are no longer interested in the property that the Range Light stands on, and that eventually the property can be transferred to the State of Florida under the National Lighthouse Preservation Act. At that time a group, such as BIPS, will be able to take it and restore it.
This is all quite confusing, because within the last few years the DOD sent a letter to the Coast Guard stating that they wanted the land transferred back to them, thanks to a 19th century law stating that any land formerly owned by the U.S. military could be taken back. They used this antiquated law to request the transfer.
For years the Coast Guard has owned the Range Light structure, and the 8.6 acres of land around it. However, in the eyes of the Coast Guard, the DOD was going to obtain the land through this law. In light of that, maintenance of the structure fell to the wayside. While the Coast Guard could go in and change a light bulb every once in awhile, they didn’t have the money to restore the light. They were simply unable to, because their average annual budget for maintaining all of the region’s lighthouse was approximately $700. That’s not even enough for a coat of paint on our Range Light.
The Coast Guard has indicated for a long time a willingness to turn the structure itself over to the state or a private entity, a practice that has become common with lights and lighthouses around the country.
In 2012 a firm called Architectural Metal and Design, Inc. came to Boca Grande and checked out the integrity of the structure. They found it to be relatively sound, but with many issues to attend to. So while there is work to be done, it isn’t as significant as it could be, considering the amount of time that has passed since the last repairs took place.
Things are looking up, though, as the new letter of relinquishment from the DOD sent this week essentially says, “We changed our minds. Keep it.”
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