North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said the town was forced to return a $165,000 grant from the U.S. National Park Service because the town did not get a permit secured for construction done in 2019 as part of the Stepping Stones Lighthouse restoration.
The town began construction on the lighthouse without a permit in August 2019, DeSena said. She said that to be eligible for future grants the funding originally approved in 2017 had to be rescinded.
“There was no return of money because we did not have it, but that grant is no longer in existence,” DeSena said during the April 4 board meeting ahead of a vote to allocate $6,800 for updating the plans on the construction for a fixed pier and floating dock at the Stepping Stones Lighthouse.
The resolution, which was blocked in a 4-3 vote, was to prepare updated bid documents, among other things.
Democrat Mariann Dalimonte voted against the resolution alongside Republicans DeSena and Council Members David Adhami and Dennis Walsh.
DeSena wrote in an email to the state Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation that town engineers at the time advised the Town Board to allow a contractor to proceed with construction without approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She added that communication acknowledging a permit application from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was mistaken as a letter of permission, or permit.
The current administration and seven-member Town Board were not involved with the mistake, DeSena said. Only Council Members Peter Zuckerman and Veronica Lurvey were on the board at the time.
Lurvey said the news of the grant being rescinded was “deeply distressing” but voted in favor of the resolution after clarifying the $6,800 was not going to be put toward physical work on the lighthouse, but instead to Rising Tide Waterfront Solutions for professional engineering services.
“I want to stress that the Great Neck Historical Society and Lighthouse Restoration Committee have indicated grants could be forthcoming and they believe that private donations could also be forthcoming if some progress is made on this project,” Lurvey said during the vote.
A new fixed pier and floating dock had $535,000 in town funds included in the 2023 capital plan. No funds have been expended as of now for the project.
The town acquired ownership of the lighthouse, which sits about 1,600 yards off the shore of Kings Point, from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2008 as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.
It agreed to submit yearly reports to the National Park Service on “any capital improvements to preserve and restore the structure within its historical accuracy.”
Preserving the lighthouse, which was built in 1877 and updated in 1944, has been an area of concern for local officials and community organizations in the area.
Former state Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso helped secure $200,000 from state funding for the town.
State Sen. Jack Martins, during his first time in the state Senate, aided in securing $100,000 for the Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society has raised more than $120,000 for restorations.
A previous version of this article was published. It has since been updated.