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PLAN WOULD KEEP TWO WNY LIGHTHOUSES AGLOW UNDER PRIVATE OPERATION

Under a Coast Guard plan to keep them from going dark, two Western New York lighthouses soon could trade their government glow for a flash of private enterprise.

The Coast Guard's Cleveland District headquarters has announced it will work with local groups in Dunkirk and Barker to keep historic lighthouses in both places working as private aids to navigation.

Both the Dunkirk Lighthouse and the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse in Somerset -- featured as the Lake Ontario representative in a recent five-stamp Great Lakes commemorative issue by the Postal Service -- had been listed among eight lakes lighthouses the maritime agency wanted to shut down.

"The Coast Guard is now shifting focus, partnering with local interest groups to arrange private operation of the lights in lieu of disestablishment," Lt. Cmdr. Robert Desh noted in an announcement.

Both lighthouses now are tended by non-profit local groups, although the Coast Guard maintains the light in the Dunkirk tower and a beacon on a steel tower near the original Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, now within Golden Hill State Park.

"It will break my heart if they take it away," said Harold "Dick" Lawson, who developed the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park and has run it for 15 years.

In Barker, the Coast Guard already has begun talks with the Friends of Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, which hopes to locate a missing classical lighthouse lens and restore the beacon to the original stone tower.

April Gow, the group's spokeswoman, said her organization earned $4,600 at a July fund-raiser and recently used funds from its treasury and the state Rural Grant Program to complete a detailed engineering study by International Chimney Corp. of Williamsville, a nationally known lighthouse engineering firm.

Robert Schumacher is leading efforts to locate the missing Fresnel lens, and a second annual "Christmas at the Lighthouse" fund-raiser -- complete with gift shop, decorations and a very early Santa visit -- is planned for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 12, the day before the state park closes for the season.

The Coast Guard's decision to relinquish the lights, part of its efforts to cut costs, follows an earlier listing of 17 other Great Lakes lighthouses as "excess property." Radar, satellite navigation systems and modern low-maintenance pole-mounted lights have had an impact on the traditional lighthouse, which is more costly to maintain even though automated systems have replaced human lighthouse keepers.

Canada is following suit, deactivating several lighthouses, including the 80-year-old lighthouse at Point Abino, Ont., near Crystal Beach. That lighthouse was dark this summer, as debates continued over competing plans to maintain it as a museum or privately run beacon for local boaters.

The Coast Guard still maintains an automated Buffalo Harbor lighthouse, on the West Breakwater. The more historic landmark 1833 lighthouse, on the city seal, was deactivated in 1914 but is licensed now to the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, a preservation group.

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