The Great Neck Historical Society called for the stewardship of the Stepping Stones Lighthouse to be withdrawn from the Town of North Hempstead, citing the lack of work toward restoring the structure and opposition from the current administration.
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 a concern for local officials and community organizations in the area. Robert Lincoln, chairman of the society’s Lighthouse Restoration Committee, said the lack of progress from prior administrations and partisan actions by the current town board have not aided the society’s quest to restore the longstanding structure.
“After 15 years and three administrations with no substantive progress, it is clear that the town has neither the will nor the ability to complete this project,” Lincoln said. “The continued contention along party lines by members of the town board only makes the situation more toxic.”
Town Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said she was a proponent of restoring the structure despite others’ lack of willingness to do so.
“I fervently advocated to revitalize the lighthouse, and I was disappointed that the supervisor and some of my colleagues on the town board did not prioritize it as I do,” Lurvey said in a statement to Blank Slate Media.
Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, in a statement to Blank Slate Media, said the current state of the restoration process is a result of years of inaction from prior administrations.
“While it is unfortunate that the situation has reached this level of acrimony, it is the result of 15 years’ worth of inaction by the town, starting in 2007 when former Supervisor Kaiman took on the lighthouse restoration with no plan in place on how to fund the multimillion-dollar effort he signed the town up for,” DeSena said. “From the beginning, this project was not supposed to utilize any taxpayer funds, but to date over $480,000 of taxpayer money has been spent by previous administrations on a project that never should have been started.”
The society entered into a partnership with the town in 2012 to aid in the lighthouse restoration and launched a variety of initiatives such as a 5K race and boat tours, but society officials said the town “refused to accept any suggestions and has only communicated through occasional meetings.”
Society officials also said the current administration “has allowed promotion of an anti-Great Neck atmosphere within the town” and has “missed an opportunity to preserve a valuable piece of history and its legend.”
Architectural firm Modern Ruins conducted a feasibility study on the lighthouse in 2017 from a contract funded by the society and concluded that the structure could be restored. In 2022, according to society representatives, Modern Ruins again analyzed the structure and concluded that, despite some rumors, the lighthouse was not falling down and it remains restorable.
Most recently, the town was forced to return a $165,000 grant from the National Park Service in April because the town did not get a permit secured for construction done in 2019 as part of the restoration process.
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.
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.
DeSena told Blank Slate Media she will continue to discuss any future plans involving the lighthouse and will seek to preserve the structure’s history and legacy.
“I look forward to discussing the future of the lighthouse with all interested parties,” DeSena said. “I believe now may be the appropriate time to explore alternatives to what has proven to be a poorly conceived plan as we continue to look to prioritize preservation.”