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Island town stands behind its lighthouse

AQUINNAH, Mass. — Residents of the tiny Martha's Vineyard town of Aquinnah are lending their support to efforts to save the historic Gay Head Light.

The iconic light — owned by the Coast Guard and leased by the Martha's Vineyard Museum — is threatened by the erosion of the cliffs it stands on, and advocates are trying to save it.

On Tuesday at a special town meeting, 43 Aquinnah voters — four more than the town's quorum — unanimously approved two articles in support of the lighthouse.

The first allows the town to acquire the lighthouse and initiate a process to preserve, restore and relocate it. The second authorizes $5,000 in community preservation funds to be used for a feasibility study for moving and restoring the lighthouse, according to the special town meeting warrant.

The vote of confidence was an important one before moving forward on the lighthouse's future, Aquinnah Town Administrator Adam Wilson said.

Moving and restoring the light could, all told, cost between $1 million and $2 million, Wilson said — the equivalent of between one-quarter and one-half of the town's annual $3.7 million operating budget.

"Knowing that's a substantial amount of money ... you've got to make sure everyone rallied behind it. And everyone certainly did," he said.

The current lighthouse has stood above the famed Gay Head cliffs since 1856; an earlier version was first built there in 1799.

The move and restoration must wait until after the Coast Guard declares it "surplus" and makes it available for the town of Aquinnah, another municipality or a nonprofit group to take it over.

The Martha's Vineyard Museum would continue to maintain it and offer tours.
 

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