The U.S. Coast Guard is willing to keep the century-old Fresnel lens in operation at Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light, if the town or another entity restores power to the lighthouse, according to Matthew Stuck, chief of Aids to Navigation, Boston.
The Coast Guard has been considering converting the Fresnel lens surrounded by a red filter to a solar-powered, light-emitting diode (LED) blinking red light, since power was lost to the island in March due to a downed electrical line. Two solar lantern would be on the ground, out of view to the thousands of spectators who view Nubble Light each year from the Sohier Park mainland, according to Stuck.
The Coast Guard has rigged a temporary solar-powered red light to the outside of the lighthouse, facing the sea.
Both the town of York, where the island is located, and the State Historic Preservation Office in Augusta want the 1891 Fresnel lens to remain as Nubble's beacon, both to mariners at sea and for those viewing it from a few hundred yards away.
"If it turned out the town or any local groups or the state was able to fix the power line, we would continue to maintain the signal indefinitely as it is now," Stuck said Friday.
The Coast Guard could not help pay the cost of fixing the electrical line, he said, as the utilities are owned by York.
"We can't spend federal funds on a third party. In this case we have other means," he said of the solar-power alternative. The estimated cost to convert the lighthouse to solar power is $6,300.
If electrical power is restored, the federal government would continue to pick up the monthly electric bill, which Stuck estimates costs thousands of dollars annually.
York's Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for all of the Nubble property except the lens. Director Mike Sullivan has gotten an estimate of $34,000 to replace the electrical lines and two utility poles on the island. There is no money currently budgeted for repair, he said. Sullivan said he expects to present the issue to York's Board of Selectmen at its next meeting starting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 24, in the town library.
Sullivan said Wednesday he currently favors the quick and less expensive fix of replacing only the electrical lines, which can be reused when and if new utility poles are put in place. The poles are believed to be original to when electricity was first run out to the island, he said.
Sullivan has also contacted Wayne Boardman, chairman of the town's Energy Steering Committee, to explore options, such as running the utility lines underground, he said.
Electricity is needed on the island for maintenance of the former caretaker's house, other buildings and grounds, he said, and for the two annual Lighting of the Nubble ceremonies held in July and after Thanksgiving. The July lighting, which attracts hundreds of visitors, will take place as scheduled on July 28, via generators, he said.
More than the issue of electrical power, Sullivan, the Sohier Park Committee and the state cite the history and look of the Fresnel lens as reasons for wanting to keep it at the Nubble. The new LED would be smaller and its light more intense than that from the Fresnel lens, Stuck said. The new light would blink at three seconds on, two off — the same as the current lens, Stuck said.
There are seven Fresnel lenses still operating in Maine, he said, but added, "The optic is not designed to last a century."
The real power drain is a fog detection system that triggers a horn, Stuck said. If the Coast Guard changes power to solar, the fog detector would become a mariner-activated system, he said.
"Sound signals are not as important as they were 50 years ago," Stuck said.
Overall, lighthouses do not play the role they did in the 1800s of providing mariners a navigation of the coastline, Stuck said. They do, however, continue to act as warnings to rocks.
In a May 20 letter to the State Historic Preservation Commission, the Coast Guard acknowledged that replacing the lens would have an adverse affect on the historic property of Nubble Light, according to Kirk Mohney, assistant director of the commission.