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Transfer complete
Lighthouse Society makes plans for their new acquisition

Star Beacon

By CARL E. FEATHER

Lifestyle Editor

The northern-most piece of real estate in Ashtabula has a new owner.

Transfer of the Ashtabula Lighthouse was recorded at the Ashtabula County Courthouse April 9, says Bob Frisbie, historian of the Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration and Preservation Society, the light's new owner.

"This has taken us about five years since we originally formed," says Joe Santiana, president of the nonprofit organization. "This has been a very, very long road with potholes, detour signs ... as we put together the information required by the government for it to relinquish ownership."

Fifteen charter members organized the society Nov. 27, 2001, after they learned of the Coast Guard's plans to release Great Lakes lighthouses from their inventory. The group was formed so a nonprofit entity would be in place in the event of Ashtabula's lighthouse being among them.

For several years, the group worked to lease the lighthouse from the Coast Guard, but Santiana says that ended up being a dead end because of insurance issues. In September 2004, the General Services Administration (GSA) transferred the lighthouse to it's surplus property list, which made the structure available to purchase.

The group soon encountered a major snag germane to all lighthouse transfers in Ohio and Michigan: bottom land issues. Santiana says the GSA actually removed the lighthouse from the list once it became aware of the issue. The officers responded by contacting senators and representatives; Ohio Rep. George Distel got involved and within two weeks of meeting with the group had worked out a resolution.

Santiana says Distel's work on the issue opened the door for not only the Ashtabula Lighthouse, but others on the southern shore of Lake Erie and on Lake Michigan to go on the GSA's list. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources leases the lake bottom under the lighthouse and the Army Corps of Engineers leases the breakwater space to the lighthouse owner.

"That opened a door for us almost two years ago to get that light on the list permanently," Santiana says.

In May 2005, the GSA held an open house at the lighthouse to give prospective buyers a chance to look at the property. A preservation group in the state of Washington was the only other interested party, and it backed out when the strong interest of the local group became apparent.

Santiana and the other officers - Vice President Lloyd Bogue, Secretary Lorna Greicius and Treasurer Debbie Santiana - went to work on the daunting application process. Joe Santiana says the group's application was subject to review by numerous governmental agencies, and five copies of every application had to be submitted. The application underwent three complete rewrites; by the time they got to the third revision, the packets had grown to more than 150 pages each.

"The terms they used were so vague, you had to guess what they were looking for in answers," says Santiana. "The original application is so vague, that if you have never done this before, it's like being blind in the dark."

The men give estimates of 500 to 1,000 man hours invested in the acquisition.

Why were they so determined to save it?