Fire Island Lighthouse Restorations Underway

Photo: Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.

         Since discovery of damage to the Fire Island Lighthouse on the morning of March 4 after a heavy wind event, the lighthouse tower has been closed to the public. Now the National Park Service (NPS) is working to restore the iconic landmark.

It was determined that “no structural damage” happened to the lighthouse itself during the event, when the exterior facade panel separated from the building according to a NPS press release issued two days after the incident. The façade was a portion of the shotcrete outer shell of the building that was added during the 1980s in order to protect the historic internal brickwork of the lighthouse.

“Tower tours however were suspended out of an abundance of caution,” according to Tony Femminella, the executive director of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society (FILPS).

He further added that both NPS and the FILPS have known for a number of years that the shotcrete shell around the lighthouse would eventually fail.

Nick Clemons, the chief of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers for the Fire Island National Seashore, further explained that this process has been slowly ongoing for years. He specifically said that the separation has been happening very slowly over time due to weather and water seepage into small fissures of the concrete.

In 2019, a monitoring system was installed in the structure by NPS engineers to study the situation in order to prepare solutions. The monitoring system confirmed that the interior brick core of the building is structurally sound and that the shotcrete of the bottom stripe was in danger of separating from the tower.

A plan was in place to install a mesh of steel cables around the bottom stripe to secure the facade but engineers underestimated how much time they had to perform the project and separation occurred before work on the stabilization could even begin.

Femminella told Fire Island News that bids were already being taken for the project but that the section of shotcrete “failed sooner than expected.”

Now what was a proactive preservation plan for the lighthouse is being adapted into a reactive restoration.

Between Tuesday, June 6 and Friday, June 9, contractors with AJCE Corp removed the separated shotcrete panels and brick rubble from the lighthouse terrace. The boardwalks directly north of the damaged section of the tower were reopened after the debris was removed.

According to Femminella, stabilization phase of the project is set to begin by the end of June. NPS has announced that Lee Construction, Inc. has been awarded the stabilization portion of the contract to wrap the lower white daymark with the planned steel cable mesh system.

If all goes well the stabilization phase of the project may be completed in time to reopen tower tours by Aug. 1.

“Hopefully we make that,” said Femminella.

Closure of the Fire Island Lighthouse tower is now running into peak tourist season, putting a financial strain on FILPS. Tower tours are the main revenue source for the organization that operates the lighthouse on behalf of the NPS, which pays its day-to-day expenses, maintains the tower light, and organizes the organization’s educational programming.

The Fire Island Lighthouse certainly has a storied history worth preserving that has been well documented by the NPS and the FILPS on their websites and on the walls of lighthouse’s museum.

A national landmark, Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858 and was the first sign of land for many immigrants starting a new life in the United States. FILPS was founded to save the lighthouse after it was decommissioned as an aid to navigation in 1973 and threatened with demolition. After raising over a million dollars for its original restoration, the lighthouse was also restored as an active aid to navigation in 1986. Since 2006, FILPS has maintained the Fire Island Lighthouse as a private aid to navigation under an agreement with the United States Coast Guard.

Today the future of the Fire Island Lighthouse beyond the stabilization phase of this new restoration process is unclear. The NPS is still considering permanent solutions for the restoration of the tower and has not given the public any insight into what solutions are being discussed, though Clemons admitted the decision process could take months or even years. One thing is certain though, lots of dedicated people are working hard to ensure that the Fire Island Lighthouse continues to shine over our island.

Tony Femminella noted that members of the public who want to personally help preserve the local icon can become members of the FILPS for as little as $20 a year.