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Historic beacon receives one bid

Word that Thomas Point Lighthouse - one of the most recognizable symbols of the Chesapeake Bay - would be up for grabs this summer generated interest from nearly a dozen groups, including one as far away as Maine.

But just one application for the historic iron-framed lighthouse arrived Monday at the National Park Service building in Washington, hand-delivered by the vice president of the U.S. Lighthouse Society on behalf of that group and its Annapolis partners.

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"This seems like it will be an absolutely wonderful consortium," said Dan Smith of the park service. The San Francisco-based lighthouse society, which has a chapter for the Delmarva region, has formed a partnership with the city and the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

A park service committee will review the 250-page application and make a recommendation to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton. Smith said a decision on whether the Annapolis coalition can take over Thomas Point should come by Oct. 1. The city estimates that maintenance will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.

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Monday also was the due date for groups vying for a second Maryland lighthouse: Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Light in Baltimore County. Two Virginia nonprofit organizations, Veterans First and Historical Place Preservation, are in the running, according to Jennifer Perunko, a contractor who coordinates the lighthouse transfer program for the park service.

These are the first two Maryland lighthouses to be made available through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which aims to turn over up to 300 U.S. Coast Guard-owned lighthouses to new owners during the next decade. Six lighthouses in other states have been fully transferred.

Model coalition

Smith, special assistant to the director of the National Park Service, said the coalition of groups that applied for Thomas Point should serve as a model for others interested in lighthouses.

"They realized that, as beloved as it is, Thomas Point is a big task to take on," he said. "Instead of competing against each other for ownership, they realized they could all be stakeholders."

In March, the lighthouse society and the maritime museum submitted separate letters of interest in the lighthouse. But the groups concluded in May that they would be better able to preserve and protect Thomas Point if they worked together and got the city involved, said Henry I. Gonzalez, the vice president of the lighthouse society.

"We didn't know each other," he said. "But we quickly realized we had the same goals of not moving the lighthouse from its original location, preserving it and opening it to the public."

Thomas Point's new owners must accept the light "as is" and "where is," according to the Department of the Interior, and will need to preserve its status on the National Register of Historic Places and make it accessible to the public.

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That last requirement could be a daunting one - the screw-pile light, so named for the iron beams screwed into the bottom of the bay, is 1 1/2 miles offshore near Annapolis and has no dock.

Other would-be applicants - from the Towson-based Injured Workers Insurance Fund to the nonprofit Creative Education, based in Allentown, Pa. - might have been dissuaded from applying by the potential cost of making the light accessible, Smith said.

Boat tours planned

But the lighthouse society said it plans to launch boat tours from the maritime museum's dock.

The society also has obtained permission from the county to install lighthouse exhibits at Thomas Point and Quiet Waters parks, Gonzalez said.


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