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Nautical zeal results in rare lawn display


David Lieberman has a nautical passion. Photos of lighthouses taken on trips adorn the walls of his waterfront home, and a sun room collection features sea lanterns and an engine room telegraph from an old ship.

But in the stone-walled side yard is something that has raised his passion to new heights -- 23 feet to be exact.

Standing amid three pine trees is a 5,000-pound lawn ornament -- a surplus Coast Guard navigational beacon, sans light -- that is the envy of Mr. Lieberman's Hopkins Creek community just off Middle River in Essex.

It took two years, nearly $2,000 and an unusual zoning approval to get his prize possession in place, and this month Mr. Lieberman put the final touches of paint on the 23-foot-high steel beacon that last stood sentinel along the Connecticut River.

Mr. Lieberman, 39, civilian chief officer of the Baltimore-based hospital ship USNS Comfort, read in a trade publication that the Coast Guard was going to scrap about a dozen old beacons used to aid navigation on the Connecticut River since World War I.

"Growing up along the Connecticut River and having played around these beacons as a child, I just had to have one," he said.

He wrote to the Coast Guard in 1993 asking for one of the beacons, but had to wait nearly a year while the government was finding a contractor to remove them. He was notified last fall that a beacon was his free of charge -- providing he could get it back to Baltimore.

First he had to get a rental truck ($400), then rent a crane to lift the beacon into the rental truck (another $400).

Back in Baltimore, Mr. Lieberman stored the beacon for free under the bow of the hospital ship at its dock in Canton. But when it came time to move the beacon to his home, there was another $100 for a tilt-back truck and $200 for the crane that lifted the beacon onto its resting place -- a concrete pad about 20 feet from the house.

"I guess after you include everything, it cost me about $2,000 to indulge my hobby," Mr. Lieberman said.

Even without its light, the beacon seems a bright idea to neighbors.

"It's wonderful, but we're going to have to wait until the leaves drop off the trees in our yard to get a good view of it," said Juanita Buchanan, who praised Mr. Lieberman for sharing his plan with neighbors. Even county Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt viewed the beacon in an interesting light, writing in his opinion last June that it would be "one large conversation piece."

To win zoning approval, the Liebermans had to show that the beacon was an accessory structure to their house. They also had to seek a variance from requirements that an accessory structure be no more than 15 feet high.

Although the zoning decision and navigational law prohibits the beacon from being actively used, Mr. Lieberman said when the light is in place he hopes to turn it on.

"For five or 10 minutes, just enough time for me to get my thrill," he said.

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