Keep the light on

Fernwood group looking to take over lighthouse

Ryan Cooke newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on July 22, 2013

A group of concerned residents gathered around Seacow Head Lighthouse recently to get a status update on their bid to take over the lighthouse from the government.

Ryan Cooke/Journal Pioneer

 

FERNWOOD – When Tom Sherry learned the federal government was looking to rid itself of the Seacow Lighthouse, he knew something had to be done.

The lighthouse has been the prized piece of Fernwood since it was built in 1864, overlooking acres of shoreline and guiding ships into Summerside harbour.

However, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans doesn’t feel the lighthouse is worth the maintenance costs anymore, Sherry said.

He went door-to-door and gathered other nearby residents to form Friends of Seacow Lighthouse, a group to take over the lighthouse and preserve its history.

“I went around to the residents of the community to see if there was enough local support, and 99 per cent of them signed the petition.”

After submitting a letter indicating their interest, they were told in July 2012 to have a business plan completed by May 29, 2015. However, a month later, they were told to have one done by November of that year.

Since sending in a preliminary proposal, Friends of Seacow Head Lighthouse have been working on a full plan.

You can either embrace it or run away from it, they were told by members of the provincial government.

Sherry has chosen to embrace it.

“We’re proceeding cautiously,” he said. “We’re not moving very fast because there are a lot of issues in play.”

They must consider the weight of the task when it comes to maintaining the 149-year-old lighthouse. While it would likely be handed over to them for a dollar, there’s still the cost of painting it, paying taxes on it, insuring it, and someday down the road, possibly even moving it.

The painting alone is the big issue right now.

Sherry and friends reached out to several different companies around the Island looking for estimates on the job. While two companies said they wouldn’t even touch it, a third said they could do it for $27,000. It would likely need to be painted again within five or six years.

It’s a cost worth paying though, Sherry says. He’s afraid if nobody takes it over, it will be torn down and replaced with a simple light pole.

On July 18, the group held a public meeting at Sherry’s cottage at the foot of the lighthouse. They were overwhelmed with support, as nearly the entire community of Fernwood showed up.

Executive member Bill Kendrick was pleased with the turnout.

“People had questions, but nobody stood up and said ‘This is the craziest idea I’ve ever heard,’” he said.

The residents were vocal with their concerns about the idea, but everyone who had questions also stated their support for the plan.

Another concern raised was liability, especially after an incident earlier in the month that resulted in the drowning death of a 41-year-old man offshore from the lighthouse.

The group would have to pay liability insurance and post warning signs along the shoreline to cover themselves from any fault should another incident take place.

Questions also swirled about the possibility of having the lighthouse designated as a national heritage site, alleviating the need for the community to take it over.

That’s just not possible, however, said member Paul Whyte.

“I’ve had several conference calls with people in Ottawa, and they just don’t want it anymore.”

Sherry said the group is about 95 per cent done its full business plan, and should hear back from the government three months after submission on whether or not they will get the lighthouse. He is not aware of any other bids at this time.

newsroom@journalpioneer.com