April 26, 2016

The saga of 'As the Lighthouse Turns -- or Not' continues


The beacon at the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has once again gotten “stuck”  and has not rotated since it was first noticed and reported to the National Park Service on Sunday night, April 24.

This is the second time this year that the rotating light has been at a standstill. The first time was in late February, when it remained stuck for several days, was briefly fixed, and then was stuck again until it was finally repaired by the United States Coast Guard.

When there is an issue with the lighthouse beacon  – which is a rarity, to say the least – the National Park Service typically checks to see if there is an easy solution, and if not, contacts the Coast Guard to perform any necessary repairs.

Despite all the new technology available to mariners, the lighthouse is still considered an aid to navigation, so the beacon is maintained by the Coast Guard.  Last time that the light was stuck the Coast Guard issued an hourly Safety Marine Information Broadcast (SMIB) to notify mariners about the problem.

The USCG is currently on the case with the latest problem, and while there are reports that there is an issue with the motor again that should be addressed on Wednesday, the official report from Chief Petty Officer Joshua Canup of the Coast Guard's public information office is that the problem is still being assessed and that there is no estimated date for a repair to be completed.

The Coast Guard said back in February that the issue with the stuck light was a problem with the motor, which was replaced.

Many long-time locals who live in the shadow of the lighthouse can’t remember the last time the lighthouse has gotten stuck – let alone twice in a three-month period.

And, for the last two incidents, these locals are the same folks who first identify and report the problem.

“During the winter months, we don’t have anyone working at [the lighthouse] at night that would see that there is a problem,” says Dave Hallac, the Superintendent for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “That’s why we appreciate it so much when local community members contact us when it’s down.”

Strangely enough, it’s always the locals who recognize there’s an issue, simply because for many area folks, the lighthouse is a fixture in the landscape, and when it’s not turning, it’s noticeable.

“We rarely if ever hear from visitors,” says Hallac. “It’s the local community members who reach out and let us know.”

“We heard from a local resident on Hatteras Island on Sunday night [indicating that it was down], which was greatly appreciated,” says Hallac.

The lighthouse was recently opened for climbing on April 15, but the upcoming repairs or any work done by the Coast Guard should not result in any long-term closures.

“There could be temporary closures for any materials or tools that the USCG has to bring up to the top,” says Hallac, “But we try to work with them to ensure that it remains open to the public.”

The Island Free Press will continue to monitor the repairs to the lighthouse, and visitors can always look up into the night skies for the distinctive flash of light to see if the light is back up and running once again.

In the meantime, area residents – who have been at the forefront of noting and reporting the lighthouse issues -- will most likely continue to act as the local lightkeepers and should note that their efforts are noticed and appreciated.

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