2007-05-03 / Front Page

Coast Guard says no to lighthouse housing

By Dotti Farrington

The U.S. Coast Guard has denied the town's request to continue the use of the Beavertail Lighthouse caretaker quarters for affordable housing.

In a letter dated April 11 and released Tuesday by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, J. J. Metcalf, commander of the USCG Civil Engineering Unit Providence, based in Warwick, wrote "we will not be permitting residential occupancy at Beavertail Lighthouse since this type of occupancy is not directly related to the maintenance of the property."

The commander said the decision was made as part of his unit's review of the usage of licensed lighthouses. He said "Under the license review process, the Coast Guard continues to address life and safety issues. There is a need for shore facilities improvements at Beavertail and at other sites."

Metcalf continued, "Our goal under our licensing process is to work towards appropriate and safe usage of historic sites, while attempting to maintain a balance with the historic characteristics to which we are all so committed." The commander concluded, "We look forward to our continued partnership with the town of Jamestown and to fully executing the pending license for Beavertail Lighthouse."

George Warner, president of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association (BLMA), said Tues- day that he "just received word" of the Coast Guard decision and wanted to review the decision with other association leaders before making a statement. The association has been working to expand its museum and related educational and historic preservation programs at the lighthouse, with indications that plans reflected a $500,000 project.

Controversy had arisen between some town leaders and some lighthouse advocates about the appropriateness of turning the caretaker's quarters over to a family with young children, as the town was planning to do.

The situation was further complicated by Richard Shutt, the lighthouse caretaker for several years, who fought to not be displaced from his quarters. Shutt eventually accepted a court settlement by quitting the premises March 31- about a year after he was scheduled to do so. The new family waited a year to move in and had not yet done so, Keiser reported Tuesday.

The town's renting of a part of the lighthouse complex as affordable housing has been an ongoing issue. Both BLMA and the joint town and state Beavertail Advisory Committee oppose use of the complex for affordable housing.

Keiser said several weeks ago that some federal officials reported they had no knowledge the town had been subletting part of the lighthouse complex for a caretaker with affordable housing status.

The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is considered especially significant because of its role in the American Revolution. Beavertail is one of about 300 lighthouses that the Coast Guard has been reviewing for decommissioning and making available, mainly to non-profit groups. The BLMA has been planning for five years for the preservation and use of Beavertail facilities. Final disposition of the light station involves input by several federal agencies, as well as the Coast Guard.

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