Little Mark Island and Monument, 2019. The town of Harpswell and the nonprofit Presumpscot Foundation plan to submit a joint application to acquire the property from the federal government. (Pam Berry photo)
Rather than continue to pursue sole ownership of Little Mark Island and Monument, the town of Harpswell now plans to submit a joint application with The Presumpscot Foundation, which owns Harpswell’s Halfway Rock Light Station.
The nonprofit foundation contacted the town the week of Labor Day, according to a Sept. 12 memo from Town Administrator Kristi Eiane to the Select Board.
“Because there are several parties making a variety of competing proposals to the federal government in this matter, a partnership between the Town and this Foundation would be considered a strong contender,” Eiane said in the memo.
If the application is successful, the foundation would own the property and “would provide the funds and resources to meet all of the obligations of the grant from the federal government,” according to the memo.
Harpswell “would have the right to review and approve all aspects of restoration, maintenance and public access,” Eiane said, as well as “rights to step in” if the foundation fails to meet its obligations.
The federal government no longer has a purpose for Little Mark Island and its historic tower, so it is offering to give the property to an eligible entity, such as a municipality or nonprofit. Would-be owners must submit an application. Harpswell had planned to apply itself before being approached by The Presumpscot Foundation.
On Thursday, Sept. 14, the Select Board authorized Eiane to draft an agreement with the foundation. The town may need voter approval to enter the agreement, according to the memo. The application must be submitted by early December.
The town staff feels like the proposal “has the potential to be an excellent collaboration and a benefit to the town,” Eiane said at the Select Board meeting. “We wouldn’t have to take on expensive renovations or any environmental issues that might need to be addressed.”
Eiane suggested that Little Mark might get a webcam like the one at Halfway Rock. A video feed would allow the public to experience the island, which is difficult to access.
The Presumpscot Foundation acquired Halfway Rock Light Station, 4 miles southwest of Bailey Island at the entrance to Casco Bay, from the federal government in 2014 and restored it in the following years.
Presumpscot’s founder, businessman and preservationist Ford Reiche, paid $283,000 for the island at auction, according to the Portland Press Herald. Reiche has authored a book about the lighthouse’s history and restoration.
Other nonprofits shied away from Halfway Rock because of the tower’s “dangerously degraded condition,” according to Maine Preservation, which honored Presumpscot for the restoration. The 1871 lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harpswell Select Board Chair Kevin Johnson said town officials have met with Reiche twice and he is excited about Little Mark.
The approximately 1-acre island lies in Harpswell waters, 1.3 miles southwest of Bailey Island. A 196-year-old lighthouse, no longer in operation, rises 50 feet above the island.
The National Park Service will review applications and may recommend one applicant to receive the property. “The process can take a year or two,” Eiane said.
While the federal government does not identify applicants during the process, the Yarmouth-based Whilde School has said it will apply in hopes of using the property as a “hands-on learning laboratory.” The nonprofit’s founder, Jessica Molloy, lives on Orr’s Island.
The federal government had Little Mark’s tower built in 1827 as a day beacon for mariners and a refuge for shipwreck victims, according to records from the National Register of Historic Places. A room at the base of the tower was outfitted with a wood stove and stocked with supplies. A beacon light was installed atop the tower in 1927.