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The National Park Service is seeking ownership of the Sullivan's Island lighthouse and oceanward land now that the U.S. Coast Guard has listed it as surplus property.
The Coast Guard is finding it difficult to maintain lighthouses and has been turning them over to other governmental entities or private owners in recent years, said Joe Casaday, a Coast Guard environmental protection specialist based in Miami.
Though the ownership changes, the Coast Guard often continues to maintain the light itself, recognizing its importance as an aid to navigation, especially to those watercraft without sophisticated radar or satellite equipment.
Charleston Aids to Navigation Chief Rodney Fulcher confirmed that the Coast Guard plans to maintain the light at the Sullivan's Island lighthouse.
John Tucker, superintendent of Fort Sumter National Monument, said the General Services Administration listed the property as available and that the Park Service wants to preserve the historic character of the site.
Tucker said property listed as surplus is offered to the Defense Department first, then to other federal departments, then state and local government agencies.
If no takers exist, the land could be sold for private use.
He said the Park Service is concerned that the lighthouse could be used for commercial reasons or the land in front of it developed for oceanfront houses.
"We are very much interested in what happens to that property", Tucker said. "We are interested in the tower to protect the value of the historic district."
The Park Service currently owns about an acre of adjacent land that contains housing, a garage and a boathouse.
The Park Service uses the housing for seasonal rangers or volunteers, and uses the site for maintenance shops.
Tucker plans to meet with Coast Guard officials in the coming weeks to discuss the costs of maintaining the lighthouse structure.
He already is seeking money in the local Park Service budget for fiscal year 2001 for lighthouse maintenance.
Meanwhile, Tucker is asking Sullivan's Island Town Council's support of the Park Service in taking over the property.
Town Administrator Linda Lovvorn Tucker (no relation to the superintendent) said Town Council wants to study the issue before supporting the Park Service's effort.
"There are a whole host of questions out there", she said, adding that the town has not seen any documents stating that the property is surplus.
She said Town Council appears interested in having the property remain in its current state.
As lighthouses go, Sullivan's Island's is a baby, having been put into service in the early 1960s, and it was among the last to be built.
The 165-foot-tall lighthouse is one of 41 on the East Coast from Maine to Florida, and the only functioning one in the Charleston area.
For years, it was among the brightest lighthouses in the world - with 28 million candles once seen by an Air Force pilot 78 miles away.
As late as 1972, the beam had a range of 29 miles.