Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Volunteers make headway on lighthouse upgrade

 


Teams of volunteers spent four days this year at Eldred Rock and are slowly making the cavernous lighthouse building more livable, said Pam Randles.

“It’s camping out, but it’s dry. We’re able to cook and we have a little generator to run tools and lights. It’s minimal, but it’s there,” Randles said this week.

In the past summer, volunteers made three trips to the windswept rock about 20 miles from downtown Haines, with as many as 37 making the May trip to assess work to be done. Trips in August and late September included landscaping, sealing windows with Plexiglas, stripping old paint and repainting the exterior.

“We’ve had a fabulous group of people working. You could see a difference because of what had been primed and painted. When we were leaving, it didn’t look nearly as decrepit,” Randles said.

The final trip of the season was devoted to making the octagonal building’s second floor habitable, including sealing the floor and cleaning up lead-based paint. They took fresh water and port-a-potties and created a locked room for supply storage. They’ll be looking for cots next.

“Mainly what we’re going for is to stabilize the building, stop further deterioration and make it a comfortable place to stay,” she said.

The Haines-based Eldred Rock Lighthouse Association is in the process of acquiring a lease on the property, but a procedural glitch is keeping the recent improvement effort unofficial. Removal of lead paint and petroleum residues remain on a hazardous materials checklist that must be completed before the U.S. Coast Guard can turn the building over to the local group.

“We can’t divest of the property until all the (environmental) remediation is done at the site,” said Dave Seris, of the Waterways Management Branch of the Coast Guard in Juneau. “If everything worked out perfectly, the Coast Guard would divest of the lighthouse and (the Haines group) would probably get it.”

In addition to budget cuts, an obstacle to receiving Coast Guard environmental compliance and restoration funding for the last bit of work at Eldred Rock is that the site is uninhabited, making it a low priority with the agency, Seris said.

“We don’t have the authority to do anything and they don’t have the money to do anything. But we want to get some work done because the building’s deteriorating,” Randles said.

That means the workers are unsponsored and unaffiliated, Randles said. “I told (workers), ‘You’re not insured or covered by anything. You are entirely your own responsibility.’” Workers will donate time and work with donated materials until their efforts fall under an official agreement with the government.

The Eldred Rock Lighthouse Association was recently incorporated and is applying for nonprofit status, Randles said. The group was formerly under the Sheldon Museum but separating into its own nonprofit will make it eligible for more forms of financial assistance, she said.

The group’s long-term goal is to make the building a kayaker’s hostel, perhaps with a summer interpreter, historic information and an artist in residency. The Haines museum has been contacted by groups wanting to have weddings or fishing parties at the spot, she said.

The single biggest obstacle to lighthouse use is establishing a docking system, she said. An elaborate railway at one time lowered boats aboard trams into the water on either side of the island, but that system is now defunct, and the rough shoreline around Eldred Rock is mostly boulders.

An option might be constructing a type of floating dock that would be removed after the summer season. “We have to come up with a better system,” Randles said. “The docking situation is not straightforward. It’s difficult.”

Besides the three-story lighthouse building, structures on the rocky, windblown point include a boathouse, carpenter shop and helipad. The lighthouse was built in 1905 and was manned until 1973, when its light was automated.

 
 

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