How does lighthouse transfer benefit American taxpayers?

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

Last week in the Juneau Empire I read that after awarding the Alaska Lighthouse Association the Point Retreat Lighthouse, Sen. Ted Stevens is attempting to transfer ownership of that property to them. Furthermore, he intends to give them ownership of an additional 1,505 acres of heavily timbered, waterfront property and a $300,000 federal grant. Having spent a considerable amount of time and effort as an unsuccessful applicant for that lighthouse, I have considerable knowledge about the circumstances and procedures that were required during the application process.

My understanding was that whoever was selected as the recipient(s) of the lighthouse would be given an approximate 30-year lease, after which time the government could renegotiate the lease or take it back. It was my further understanding that the potential uses of the property would have been specified before any lease was signed and the government would monitor to assure those provisions were followed. What I'm seeing now is something quite different from the original criteria.

In fairness, the application I submitted cannot be directly compared to that of the Alaska Lighthouse Association because my application was to improve and maintain the existing lighthouse facilities (according to predetermined standards) and utilize a small portion of the adjoining property for activities associated with a for-profit operation. The idea was that, as a part of the required lease process, the federal government would participate, on a percentage basis, in any of the profits generated. Any benefit I got would be proportionately shared with those who owned the property (the American people). In retrospect, I'm very glad I was unsuccessful in my efforts, especially under the circumstances it was being offered then vs. now. My actions at the time, however, were in good faith and in conformance with the estab-lished process and criteria. It's become obvious that almost everything is being changed dramatically after the fact. I'm still not interested as a participant. I am interested, however, as a taxpayer.

Furthermore, Sen. Stevens supposedly tucked $300,000 for the use of the Lighthouse Association into a Department of Interior spending bill, which prompts me to ask, what benefits do his potential actions hold for the people of the United States (the present owners of the property)? Mr. David Benton, former deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Lighthouse Association spokesman, says his group wants to create a small maritime museum and convert the keepers quarters into a bed and breakfast.

Finally, the lease of the property in question was to be signed over two years ago and the agreement was for the successful applicant (as a minimum) to fix up and maintain the existing facilities for the general good. To the best of my knowledge, there has been little or nothing done toward that end. I know Mr. Benton said in the newspaper that his group has spent weekends during the summer working there. I fish at and beyond Point Retreat all summer and have only seen a boat at the dock once. That's not to claim, however, that they haven't been there during the week or at times when I haven't been in the area. I don't know.

Contrary to what it may seem, I am not trying to torpedo the Alaska Lighthouse Association's use of the Point Retreat Lighthouse. I do not, however, see how Sen. Steven's potential actions benefit the taxpayers of the United States. By deeding millions of dollars in land and timber to a recently formed non-profit organization, he is forever removing it from the use, control and eventual disposition of the federal government - us. I respectfully ask, why?

I also feel strongly that the property should not be turned over to the Forest Service. Their plan would be to lock it up so that only a select few of the chosen class could utilize it. Isn't it interesting that some Native groups, who didn't bother to apply for the lighthouse under the original criteria, now believe Sen. Stevens is being unfair not to consider them as possible recipients? It seems to me that someone, without an agenda other than the generally accepted "common good," should have stewardship (not ownership without purchase) of that uniquely valuable local and national asset.

This communication has been respectfully submitted to Sen. Stevens, Sen. Frank Murkowski and Rep. Don Young for their information and/or comment.

William Suss is a retired educator who lives in Juneau.

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