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Huntington Lighthouse

More than $1 million in foundation renovations have been completed despite challenges

Huntington ligthhouse. Photo from Pam Setchell

The jewel of Huntington Harbor will be opening its doors to welcome visitors for the first time in more than two years.

The Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the structure, will offer its first tour of the lighthouse July 15 after completing $1.1 million in repairs. A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for July 11 to celebrate the structure’s reopening.

“It’s been a very long two years,” said Pamela Setchell, president of the preservation society. “We keep walking around pinching ourselves that we did it. We did it. We’re thrilled out of our minds.”

“We keep walking around pinching ourselves that we did it. We did it.”

– Pamela Setchell

Tours of the lighthouse will be offered by volunteers on a first-come, first-serve basis from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. once a month. Guests must be wearing flat, rubber-soled shoes to board the boat, according to Setchell.

The nonprofit organization last offered a tour of the historic landmark in September 2015 before the building was closed for phase one of restoration efforts to its exterior foundation. The lighthouse was in danger of becoming unstable and crumbling into the water.

Frank Scobbo, vice president of Port Washington-based Scobbo Foundation Systems, was hired as the contractor to shore up the 100-year-old structure.

“It was a labor of love, commitment and dedication to get the jewel of the harbor repaired,” Scobbo said.

He and his approximately 10-person staff took on the daunting task of replacing the damaged rebar, or steel reinforcement, in the lighthouse’s foundation, patching sheetrock and concrete in the underwater structure.

“The sheer location was one of the primary issues,” Scobbo said.

Working on a building located a mile offshore, the contractor said extensive pre-planning was necessary to account for the tides, currents and changing weather conditions each day. In 2016, a sudden squall sent waves crashing over the deck of a barge full of stone for the lighthouse’s base, causing it to take on water, according Scobbo. It required a rapid response of two Huntington Bay constables, Stephen Taylor and Timothy Lutz, and Scobbo’s crew to prevent the boat from sinking.

“It was a labor of love, commitment and dedication to get the jewel of the harbor repaired.”

– Frank Scobbo

“It was very scary, it probably took a couple of years off my life,” Scobbo said.

All supplies and equipment needed to be transported out via boat and a single forgotten item could have meant a 45-minute trip back to shore, according to the contractor. Scobbo said these challenges made the lighthouse’s restoration one of the most difficult projects he’s ever worked on, having previously repaired Stepping Stones Light in Nassau County and restored a 200-year-old Times Square building.

The Huntington Harbor Lighthouse still requires some additional work, according to the contractor, including the placement of more boulders on the east side of the structure and window replacements.

“They have a lot of work to do, but now the most important part is done,” Scobbo said.

The cost of the project was paid for through approximately $740,000 fundraised by the preservation society that was used to secure a matching $250,000 state grant, and a $145,000 grant received from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation in September 2017.

Those interested in taking a tour of Huntington Harbor Lighthouse can find a full list of tour dates on the preservation society’s website at www.huntingtonlighthouse.org/tours.php. Tickets cost $20 per adult, $15 for seniors and $10 for children age 5 or older, with family discounts available. Children younger than age 5 are not permitted due to safety issues and insurance concerns.

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau officers rescued two boaters who were stranded on the rocks at Huntington Lighthouse in Huntington Harbor.

The Huntington harbormaster requested assistance from Suffolk County Marine Bureau for a boat that had become lodged in the rocks by the Huntington Lighthouse June 17 at approximately 8 p.m. Marine Bureau officers Terence McGovern and Kevin Yoli responded aboard Marine Bravo.

The officers tied a line to the stern of the 38-foot sailboat in an attempt to free it. A boat from Sea Tow arrived and workers secured a second line to the mast of the boat and rolled it on its side allowing Marine Bravo to pull it away from the rocks to safety.

After the boat was freed from the rocks, officers did a visual inspection of the boat and conferred with the boat’s owner, Jorge Schneider, 71, of Huntington. It was determined the boat was undamaged and Schneider and a female passenger were unharmed. The pair remained aboard the sailboat and were escorted by Sea Tow to shore.

The Huntington Lighthouse is one of 11 overlooking the Long Island Sound in which the U.S. Coast Guard is looking to replace and update the foghorn system. Photo from Pamela Setchell

A proposed plan to change the foghorn at Huntington Lighthouse is already raising alarm among North Shore boaters.

The U.S. Coast Guard is awaiting final approval to switch out the lighthouse’s foghorn from the current automated system to a new boater-operated model. Shifting the responsibility for operation of this essential safety device to the watercraft owners has raised objections from both residents and Huntington Town officials.

“This is not something that should be installed here at all due to the nature of the boating community,” said Pamela Setchell, president of the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society. “The Town of Huntington encompasses five harbors and 5,000 boaters. A lot of those 5,000 boaters are inexperienced.”

The lighthouse’s foghorn is currently activated by a sensor, according to Mark Williams, officer in charge of the Aid and Navigation Team for the Long Island Sound. Williams said the sensor sends out a signal that measures for half-mile distance, if fog or other weather conditions cause visibility drops below a half-mile the foghorn will activate and sound until it clears.

The Coast Guards’s plan is to switch this sensor-activated system out to a new Marine Radio Activated Sound System, known as MRASS for short, in 11 lighthouses overseeing the Sound is an attempt to save time and money on maintenance. In addition to Huntington, other locations on the list include Montauk Point and Orient Point.

“The equipment out there is old, antiquated and almost impossible to find replacement parts for now,” Williams said. “We are going with a new system that the U.S. Coast Guard has tested and approved.”

The MRASS system requires a lighthouse’s foghorn to be activated by boaters with a
Marine Very High Frequency Radio, commonly referred to as a VHF radio, by turning to the 83A frequency and touching the key, which activates the radio fives times, equally spaced apart. Once this signal is received, Wiliams said the lighthouse’s foghorn will sound for the next 30 minutes.

Both Williams and Setchell agree that Huntington Lighthouse is distinctive and unique compared to the many other lighthouses where the new foghorn is proposed, given its close proximity to residential communities and services mostly recreational boaters.

Setchell said as an experienced boater that she fears the new foghorn could be problematic as watercraft owners are not required to have a VHF radio onboard under New York state law — and some recreational boaters don’t. Also, her concern is it places the burden of raising alarm on an individual already in distress.

“When you are lost in the fog in a boat, it’s frightening because you have no idea where you are,” she said. “To sit there and think an inexperienced boater will have the wherewithal and calm to grab their VHF radio, remember to go to 83A, and key the mike five times is ridiculous.”

Williams admitted there is no requirement for boaters to own a VHF radio, but it is highly encouraged.

“There might be small boaters who don’t have anything,” he said. “But we hope vessels of that size with little equipment are not out in the fog or restricted visibility weather.”

Setchell said the residents near the lighthouse, along with the boating community, fear a user-operated system could become the “focus of pranks” by drunken or irresponsible parties. If the signal is keyed in repeatedly, the foghorn will continue to sound for a full 30 minutes from the last time it was activated — with no immediate shutoff.

Huntington Town officials have raised their own concerns about whether changing the foghorn system is in the best interests of the boating community.

“The town shares the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society’s concerns about whether a boater-operated foghorn is appropriate for an area that is almost exclusively used by recreational boaters,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in statement. “We look forward to working with the Lighthouse Preservation Society, the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs and the Coast Guard to address the issue of a new foghorn that will increase boater safety without unnecessarily intruding on the serenity of those who live along the shore.”

The Town of Huntington has filed a letter with the U.S. Coast Guard outlining its concerns for consideration before the plan is approved.

The same MRASS foghorn plan was proposed for the Huntington Lighthouse in 2009, according to Setchell, but was tabled due to overwhelming public objection after less than a week.

The system has been widely installed across northern New England, according the Williams, with very few complaints.

Any individual or organization who either supports or has concerns about the proposed foghorn replacement can write to the U.S. Coast Guard by sending an email to  mark.p.williams@uscg.mil.

Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society receives a $145,000 grant that helps the organization reach the $1 million needed to complete foundation repairs. Photo from Pamela Setchell

The future of a historic lighthouse in Huntington Bay is looking bright.

The 105-year-old Huntington Lighthouse will undergo much-needed repairs this fall thanks to preservation efforts by members of the nonprofit Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, which in August secured a $145,000 matching grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, when announcing the grant recipient, highlighted the lighthouse’s “vital role as a cultural entity, enhancing education and preserving heritage in the community.”

The Gardiner grant, which the preservation society applied for in July 2016, will be used to complete what members are calling phase one of restoration efforts to the lighthouse’s exterior foundation.

It will also allow the lighthouse to reopen for tours and educational groups again after two years of dormancy, as well as mark the return of the Lighthouse Music Fest.

Steel sheeting has been placed around the entire base of the structure to ensure more stability for the next 100 years against rough weather conditions. A brand new landing platform will be installed to replace a deteriorating one.

Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society receives a $145,000 grant that helps the organization reach the $1 million needed to complete foundation repairs. Photo from Pamela Setchell

Pamela Setchell, president of the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, said she believes it was her passion for the historic landmark that clinched the highly-competitive grant during the interview process.

“For me, it’s just a dream,” said Setchell, a lifelong Huntington resident who has been exploring the lighthouse since she was young. “Just knowing she is going to be strong for another 100 years and hopefully go on to tell its story to everybody and to children and continue on … it means the world.”

She said without these restoration efforts, the lighthouse would become unstable and rapidly deteriorate, undoing the last 30 years of work the society has done to upkeep its interior. Setchell joined the society upon its formation in 1985 when threats of demolition loomed over the structure.

“We took it over in a deplorable state, put her back together and now she’s actually one of the poster children for offshore lighthouse restoration in the country,” Setchell said.

She pointed to the offshore lighthouse as unique among others on Long Island as it’s one of the few, due to its location, that allows the public to fully experience it. Many other lighthouses on the island are off-limits to visitors due to treacherous waters, she said.

Bernadette Castro, a longtime Huntington resident and former commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, echoed Setchell’s admiration for the lighthouse.

“For 50 years, I have looked out my dining room window and sat on my back terrace and appreciated that magnificent little structure,” Castro said of the lighthouse. “It is part of the landscape of those of us who live nearby.”

The recently acquired $145,000 grant, in addition to the nonprofit’s previously-raised $740,000 to secure a $250,000 New York state matching grant, as well as fundraising efforts among Huntington Bay residents, closes the gap on the $1 million foundation repair.

Annual Huntington Lighthouse Music Fest comes to town for 9th year

The Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society held its annual Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 5. This festival, which is only accessible by boat, featured nine music acts and was enjoyed by all ages. The society also announced the launch of The Beacon Society initiative, a challenge grant program established by Bernadette Castro, long time Lloyd Harbor resident, successful business woman and former New York State commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, to benefit the ,lighthouse’s capital campaign. The initiative is designed to raise $80,000 within the next 10 months to help fund Huntington Harbor Lighthouse’s $1.5 million Foundation for the Future capital campaign for critical repairs to the historic structure’s foundation its watertight integrity.

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