Coast Guard asks if Mukilteo Lighthouse is used to navigate

MUKILTEO — The Coast Guard wants to know if anyone still uses the Mukilteo Lighthouse to navigate. If not, the Coast Guard may give the light to the city to maintain or even shut it off.

The lighthouse has beamed over the waters around Mukilteo since 1906. The lighthouse’s antique French lens is owned and operated by the Coast Guard and serves as a road sign for mariners negotiating a safe course.

Every year, 12,000 to 15,000 visitors flock to see the iconic lighthouse, one of 21 remaining in the state and the only one that uses an antique Fresnel lens system.

Lighthouses are expensive to maintain and the Coast Guard no longer wants to pay for them, said Lt. Cmdr. Fred Seaton of the U.S. Coast Guard in Seattle.

Also, he said there are cheaper options than the historic lens.

The Coast Guard on Thursday provided a “notice to mariners” and a survey asking for comment by Dec. 1. With the advent of electronic charting and global positioning systems, “it is the Coast Guard’s belief that lighthouses are no longer relied upon for navigation,” the survey said.

The Coast Guard had previously proposed removing the glass casing around the light, putting it on display and replacing it with a modern light.

That’s something the city and the historical society don’t want to see happen.

“What we want is to keep things the way they are,” Mayor Joe Marine said. “What we don’t want them to do is pull the lens out and put a plastic one in.”

The Coast Guard already has donated several adjacent buildings, the land and the lighthouse — except for the lens — to the city of Mukilteo. The Mukilteo Historical Society, a volunteer organization, helps preserve the history of the site and assists with maintenance.

If mariners are using the light, the Coast Guard would likely replace it with a less-expensive option such as a zero-maintenance light, Seaton said. The current lens then could go to a Coast Guard historian, the Historical Society or the city.

Marine doesn’t know how much it costs to maintain the lens, but he said the city and the historical society could care for it. The Coast Guard on Thursday wasn’t able to come up with the cost.

“I can’t imagine it’s that much,” Marine said.

The Mukilteo lighthouse is the only in Washington that has a working Fresnel lens system. It’s a “priceless artifact,” said Jeff Gales, the executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, based in the Point No Point lighthouse on the Kitsap Peninsula, almost in sight of Mukilteo.

Whether lenses like it should be stored in a museum or left in the tower is a “hot lighthouse issue.”

He said the Mukilteo Lighthouse is an outstanding candidate for privatization since the historical society has the manpower, organization and fundraising skills to care for it.

The society, the city and the Coast Guard have talked about privatizing the lighthouse, said John Petroff, president of the historical society.

If the Coast Guard does decide to turn over the landmark, the city likely would get to keep the historic lens, made in France in 1852, and be responsible for maintaining a functioning light. He characterized discussions with the Coast Guard as positive.

“I do believe the Coast Guard recognizes the cultural and historical desire to preserve the lens and are in favor of (privatization),” he said.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Notice to mariners

Mariners who use the lighthouse as a navigational aid, can provide comment to the U.S. Coast Guard by calling 206-220-7278 or writing Attn: WAMS Officer, Thirteenth Coast Guard District, 915 Second Ave., Seattle, WA 98174.

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