Bidders will get another shot at buying the Connecticut lighthouse rendered on some vehicle license plates after a deal for the iconic beacon fell apart.
The Saybrook Breakwater Light off the coast of Old Saybrook will again go to auction for the general public in June. The high bidder in a 2013 deal backed out after she was not able to secure a lease for the submerged land under the lighthouse, which is controlled by the state of Connecticut, federal government officials said Friday.
The lighthouse — also known as the Saybrook Outer Light — is one of four lighthouses along the Connecticut coast coming on the market this year, the officials said.
In 2013, Kelly K. Navarro agreed to pay $340,000 for the 127-year-old Saybrook lighthouse through a limited-liability company. The “spark-plug” style lighthouse near the borough of Fenwick is within view of two residences also owned by Navarro’s company and not far from the former estate of the late actress Katharine Hepburn.
A lease agreement couldn’t be signed because the state legislature didn’t pass a bill in the 2014 session authorizing such leases for land under lighthouses — so-called bottom lands.
“Nearly one year passed without an agreement from the state of Connecticut” so Navarro asked for her deposit back, said Patrick Sclafani, a spokesman for the federal government’s General Services Administration, which oversees the sale of lighthouses for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Graham Stevens, office director of land management for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Friday that there was no opposition to the bill last year; it just didn’t get high priority in the crunch at the end of the session, he said.
The bill is pending this year. The Senate has backed the bill, and it awaits action in the House.
“We support the legislation that would allow us to lease bottom lands for the preservation of these important lighthouses,” Stevens said.
The legislation also is needed to transfer three other Connecticut lighthouses that are also coming on the market this year.
In addition to the Saybrook, the Pecks Ledge Light, at the northeast end of the Norwalk Islands, also will go on the auction block.
The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 calls for a two-step process to transfer ownership of U.S. lighthouses.
Both Saybrook and Pecks Ledge — sometimes called Peck Ledge — already have passed through the first step.
First, the lighthouse is offered to nonprofits and public agencies, essentially for $1, if the “buyer” agrees to preserve it and use it for cultural or educational purposes. If no suitable organization is found, the second step is an auction to the general public. The auctions are not restricted to individuals; local towns and cities can bid as well.
Just two of the state’s 20 lighthouses — Morgan Point in the Noank section of Groton and Stamford Harbor Light — are privately owned.
Two lighthouses — Greens Ledge Light, near the entrance of the Five Mile River in the Rowayton section of Norwalk, and Southwest Ledge Light, at the entrance to New Haven Harbor, will enter the first step this year.
Greens Ledge, a spark-plug style lighthouse built in 1901, is 52-feet tall and has four levels. Southwest Ledge, constructed in 1875, is an eight-sided, three-story cast-iron structure with a mansard roof. The first story has a living room, a sitting room and a kitchen. There are two bedrooms on the second level.
The GSA began accepting proposals for Greens Ledge and Southwest Ledge Friday.
Lighthouses hold a prominent place in the country’s maritime history, but the structures, many of them dating to the 1800s — are old and expensive to maintain. They are also outmoded because of modern tracking technology, leading the government to seek new owners for an increasing number of the beacons nationwide.
If lighthouses are operating when sold, the U.S. Coast Guard retains the right to keep the light burning and the foghorn blowing.