Time is running out for a coalition of New York State environmental groups who are trying to preserve a small island and its historic lighthouse from development.
It may only be an acre in size, but the race to preserve Little Gull Island, a tiny speck in the waters of Long Island Sound, has inflamed the passions of many environmental and preservation groups in the area. The island and its historic 19th century lighthouse, currently owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, are on the chopping block as part of New York State’s cost-cutting measures.
Fearful that the island will fall into the wrong private hands, not-for-profit groups like the New London Maritime Society (NLMS), which already owns one lighthouse, and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE) have banded together to try to purchase the island. Unfortunately, the deadline for bid submissions is October 10th, and the groups have yet to secure the necessary funds. There are three bids on the island so far, with the highest at US $70,000.
Optimism is in the air, however – in a public statement, CFE director Leah Schmalz said her group is working to find grants, loans and donations to cover the cost. “I’m still very hopeful the pieces will fall together,” she said. “It would be a shame to think $70,000 could stand in the way of this remaining public (land).” The NLMS also hopes to join in the fundraising efforts, and the groups have been approaching other NPOs and government agencies for help.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said that while they have no interest in purchasing the property, they can see its importance as a breeding ground for waterfowl, especially the roseate tern. “This area is also located in a critical foraging area for these birds, and the management and protection of this island could contribute to the larger island protection effort in this part of Long Island Sound,” said spokesperson Meagan Racey. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the local township of Southhold have also decided not to get involved in buying the island.
In any case, whether the island is purchased by a conservancy or a private interest, there will be significant restrictions on what could be done to the small property, according to news reports. The lighthouse, which was built in 1869 and is still operational, will continue to be administered by the Coast Guard, which will retain an easement on the island.
But while the development potential of Little Gull is indeed limited, the issues of public access and active conservancy still hang in the balance. Since no government agency has been willing to get involved, it seems that NPOs are the only hope for keeping the island and its historic lighthouse in public hands. With less than a week to go until the auction deadline, however, it will have to take quick thinking and a lot of luck.
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