News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Saving the Port Clinton Lighthouse

For some sixty years a quaint little lighthouse, painted white with blue trim, has stood alongside the Portage River at Port Clinton, Ohio, a quiet reminder of the oft-forgot rich nautical history.

The Port Clinton Lighthouse, built in 1896, lies on private property at Brand's Marina, where its owner, Darrell Brand, had carefully preserved it since purchasing the marina from his predecessor, Dave Jeremy, some 30 years ago. It was Jeremy who, in 1952, was hired by the federal government to remove the structure from the end of the west breakwater pier after conversion to a plain electric light rendered the little lighthouse obsolete. With great foresight, Jeremy decided the light was worth preserving and placed in by the river.

A few years ago Brand decided he needed to take steps to ensure that the little lighthouse is permanently preserved so he began working with the mayor, Debbie Hymore-Tester, to transfer the light to the city so that it could be given a permanent home on the Lake Erie waterfront in the Waterworks Park. Soon after, the Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy was established to begin the process of restoration and provide an organizational structure for future fundraising that would be required to maintain the structure.

In December 2011 the Port Clinton City Council voted to accept the gift of the lighthouse as part of a "Phase II" plan to develop the Waterworks Park. However, the following month brought the election of a new mayor, Vince Leone, who had a different plan for the park and mothballed the Phase II plan. When he met with Brand in March of 2012, Leone refused to accept the lighthouse with "strings attached." Brand wanted an agreement with the city that guaranteed that if the city ever decided to sell, move, or use the lighthouse for some other purpose, it would revert to the Brand family. Brand also insisted that the lighthouse be placed on the Lake Erie waterfront.

Mayor Leone and the city administration have been working with a developer, Mike Rose of Washington Properties in Medina, Ohio, on a plan to develop the Waterworks Park. Current plans call for the construction of a fishing lodge complex that would include time-share condominium units and consume a 14.7 acre section of the existing park. After this plan was presented at a public meeting this past March, the Conservancy responded by submitting a comprehensive proposal explaining the economic and historic value of the lighthouse to the city and laying out a plan for placement that would not interfere with the proposed development. This was presented to the administration and council, and briefed to the public at the end of March.

Given the stalemate, the Conservancy then launched a grass roots campaign to educate the public on the issue, holding a series of public meetings and speaking to local civil groups. This led to a dialog opening up between the Conservancy and the City, but following a meeting with city officials in April the mayor told the group he was not willing to accept the lighthouse as long as there were strings attached.

Frustrated with the intransigence of city officials, and aware of the broad support for the lighthouse in the community, the Planning and Development Committee of the Port Clinton City Council met and voted to present a motion to the full council urging the city to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Conservancy to choose a waterfront location for the lighthouse and to develop a timeline for its placement. This motion received unanimous approval by the council at its meeting on May 28th, 2013.

The Conservancy hopes to work with the city administration to craft the MOU mandated by the council, resolve the impasse, and find a permanent home for this historic lighthouse.

In my next post I will give the history of the Port Clinton Lighthouse, and its predecessor light which was built in 1833.