Sunday, February 10, 2013

Massachusetts miscellany: Gay Head Lighthouse

My activist friends here in Massachusetts were thrilled by a bit of good news from the big stage in the last few weeks. Because recently-ejected former Senator Scott Brown decided not to run for the open seat left John Kerry, they are not going to have to work on another do-or-die campaign to put in a Democrat this spring. They just did that, electing Elizabeth Warren. They are not complacent (that's how they got stuck with Brown two years back) but they feel a great burden has been lifted.

1Moshup trail town meeting.JPG
And anyway, out here in the remote beauty of Martha's Vineyard Island, politics is a series of local issues that add up to the idiosyncratic charm of the place. One of the largest (heftiest?) this season is taking form at the far western tip where the town of Aquinnah is being forced to decide what to do about the Gay Head Lighthouse. Without town action, the massive 19th century brick structure will be undermined by the eroding cliffs and slip into the sea.

2gay head lighthouse with cliffs, erosion!.JPG
For summer tourists whose dollars support many locals, even more than the red cliffs at ocean edge, the lighthouse is Gay Head. It is no longer used for navigation (superseded by GPS) and the Coast Guard would happily declare it surplus property. But simply tearing it down would rob the area of its totem. It is not particularly attractive, but it is is there, dominating the landscape. What to do?

Practice democracy, of course. The Martha's Vineyard Times reports:

On a cold, snowy night, Aquinnah voters turned out for a special town meeting Tuesday and agreed to purchase the Gay Head lighthouse and initiate the process to preserve, restore, and relocate it.

… A total of 43 voters, or just 12 percent of the town's 389 registered voters gathered … voters agreed to purchase the lighthouse and appropriate $5,000 from the town's Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to pay for a feasibility and planning study for work to save the lighthouse.

There's lots more to do. Apparently there is a company that specializes in moving massive brick lighthouses that could do the job. But where to put it? You can't just drop a multi-ton lighthouse on a bog -- and land is Aquinnah is more than expensive. Besides, the lighthouse's fans plan to fundraise for most of the costs.

But all that is down the line, to be argued out in subsequent meetings. For the moment, the town has decided. The lighthouse will live on, somewhere.
3Gay head lighthouse over heather.JPG

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