PRESS EDITORIAL: Let’s take a clear-eyed look at the lighthouse

The first challenge facing the committee newly created to raise funds for the Port Washington lighthouse is to navigate through the fog of absurdity that has obscured reality in planning for the care of the city’s most distinctive identifying symbol.

A million dollars to give the lighthouse a coat of paint! That has to be a joke, right?

It certainly is, yet it has been repeated by city officials and others with straight faces in the months since the City of Port Washington became the owner of the lighthouse last year.

That seven-digit fantasy number has been an impediment to rational thinking about the community’s responsibility for the lighthouse. There is no way taxpayers or donors are going to fund a million-dollar paint job.

Job one for the committee of the nonprofit Friends of the Parks and Recreation Department that has been tasked with planning and fundraising for lighthouse maintenance is to look at the project through a realistic lens.

 Here’s that view of reality: The lighthouse is habitually referred to as iconic, and it is—it’s Port Washington’s icon.

In that role, it should look good, but right now, it doesn’t. It’s made of steel; steel rusts, and the lighthouse is rusty. For the sake of its own image, the city should spruce it up.

It promised to maintain the lighthouse when it acquired it from the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the structure at the end of the north breakwater has to be refurbished and detailed to an A-1, five-star, government-certified gold standard. Basically, it needs to be painted.

 Not much more than looking presentable should be expected of the lighthouse now.

The portholes need some attention, an interim fix, rather than the $30,000 worth of repairs that has been quoted, which can wait until funding is secured.

The structure is sound and adequate for what the U.S. Coast Guard requires of it—that it supports the navigation light maintained by the USCG at the top of its tower.        

Ald. Mike Gasper summed up the lighthouse situation nicely in two sentences: “Right now, we’re not doing worse than the federal government was. The Coast Guard didn’t take good care of it.”

Perhaps the committee could get some insight from former enlisted Navy sailors. Veterans who put in time chipping rusty paint on steel Navy vessels could explain that it’s not rocket science.

Soliciting proposals from painting outfits for a lighthouse paint job should be the next step.

In the meantime, it should be understood that the Port Washington lighthouse may forever be a work in progress, with maintenance projects done when funds are available.

To that end, the new lighthouse committee of the park and rec friends group is facing a fundraising necessity— taxpayer funding is not a realistic option. But we rate the prospects of success as excellent.

The city government did the right thing in taking ownership of the lighthouse and it was evident that the move had strong community support. With reasonable cost estimates in place of over-the-top spending scenarios, there is good reason to believe that moral support will morph into financial support.

So let this be the plan: Keep it simple. Make Port Washington’s icon look good. Perfection can wait.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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