You can buy a lighthouse. What would you do with it?
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Lighthouses for sale! Actually, lots of lighthouses for free.
Technological advances and a desire to purge unneeded properties have paved the way for the federal government to get rid of more than 100 lighthouses over the last 14 years. And it intends to keep selling and giving them away. The sold lighthouses, located on both coasts and in the Great Lakes states, have become everything from museums to bed-and-breakfasts.
Dave Waller purchased the Graves Island Light Station in the mouth of Boston Harbor for a record $933,888 last year. He is turning lighthouse into a private home that can double as a vacation rental. He wants to create a bedroom as far as possible from the foghorn. It's a challenging feat in a building with about 750 feet of livable space.
"It just seemed like a chance to have something a little more independent and on your own," Waller said.
Sixty-eight of the lighthouses have gone for free to preservationists. Another 36 were sold at public auction, thanks to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. It allows the government to dispose of federally owned lighthouses. The Coast Guard, which maintains lighthouses, has 71 other lighthouses ready up to go through the transfer process. Four are at auction now.
The Coast Guard owns 254 lighthouses. The question is more about which ones it will keep than which ones it will eventually sell, said Jeff Gales, executive director of the nonprofit U.S. Lighthouse Society.
"There is an end in sight," Gales said. "There's a limited number of lighthouses."
The federal General Services Administration sells the lighthouses. It is nearing the end of an online auction for the Halfway Rock Light Station off of Harpswell, Maine. The lighthouse has attracted a half dozen bidders and a high bid of more than $240,000. That's a good figure for a lighthouse that is only accessible by boat, Gales said.
Some lighthouses, typically those that are easily to get to by land, are transferred swiftly to preservation groups. Others that are offshore or in need of heavy maintenance receive no bidders. Still others attract the eye of private investors, such as Boston's Waller.
Critical thinking challenge: How does the government benefit from selling the lighthouses, in both the short term and the long term?