A lighthouse keeper?

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Any of three historic lighthouses on the Great Lakes could be yours. Meanwhile, the Boating Associations of Ohio are calling for more action dealing with Lake Erie’s growing algae-bloom problems.

First, living in a lighthouse could be fun, or at least different. If you’ve ever fantasized about it, your chance may be at hand. Your summer escape place, perhaps? That’s because three lighthouses in Michigan that have safely guided boats and ships for decades are on the block by the General Services Administration through an online auction.

Poe Reef lighthouse

Poe Reef lighthouse

For example, up at the top of Lake Huron, the Poe Reef lighthouse might be yours for the paltry sum of $15,000. It sits 6 miles out in the lake east of Cheboygan, Michigan, guiding vessels heading to Lake Michigan through a hazardous channel area. You’re very unlikely to be bothered by surprise visits from relatives out there!

Fairport Lighthouse

Fairport Lighthouse

A second up for sale, the Ontonagon Breakwater lighthouse, is actually the westernmost lighthouse on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s perched at the entrance of the channel leading to the Ontonagon River from Lake Superior. This one is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and sits on dry land for easier access.

But if living on a sandbar is your real fancy, the Superior Entry lighthouse is the one for you. It sits on the sandbar between Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. Starting bid is reportedly a mere $10,000. This 1913 lighthouse can mostly be accessed only by water, albeit relatives could reach it if they climb over the rocks leading to the breakwater on which the lighthouse is perched. It does include a two-story living quarters and a basement, however.

Superior Entry lighthouse

Superior Entry lighthouse

Why would someone want to own a lighthouse? In the past, many enthusiasts have jumped at the chance to own their own lighthouses, according to a story reported on Cleveland’s WJW-TV back in 2013. Ohioan Sheila Consaul, for example, paid $71,010 for the Fairport Harbor lighthouse on central Lake Erie.

Consaul told WJW-TV: “I have watched this lighthouse my whole life. It’s my first time to ever be inside. It was really neat.”

I know Ms. Consaul’s lighthouse with its classic 42-ft. light tower and attached keeper’s cottage very well. Over the years, we spent many beautiful nights on our boat anchored up behind its protective breakwall at the mouth of the Grand River.

What might someone do with a lighthouse? According to the United States Lighthouse Society, in more than a dozen states former lighthouses have been converted into inns. If you’re interested, the lighthouses available are listed at GSA Auctions (search keyword “lighthouse”), a website the government uses to sell federal property. It could be fun!

Focusing on the Algae Problems

What’s clearly not fun is another big algae bloom that has materialized over western Lake Erie, triggering a call for more action by the Boating Associations of Ohio. What has become an annual carpet of green slime is being addressed by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly, but definitely not fast enough, says BAO.

The Governor and lawmakers in the General Assembly are working on a “general concept” that the Governor has labeled H2Ohio. It supposedly would create conservation easements, designate more areas of wetlands, invest in new technology to combat pollution and take aggressive action on failing septic tanks. What’s not happening is real action.

It’s widely known that the blooms are fed primarily by the manures and fertilizers applied to farm fields in western Ohio’s wide-ranging Maumee River watershed. It flows into western Lake Erie at Toledo. Interestingly, recent reports by the Toledo Blade noted a normally wet spring followed by a hot summer would guarantee a major appearance of green scum in western Lake Erie.

However, this spring saw so much rain that many farmers couldn’t plant fields. These fields were not sprayed to fertilize crops, kill insects and weeds, or receive excessive amounts of animal manure. For that reason, Lake Erie may be spared from setting another algal bloom record. But one undesirable result of all that could be a sense of less urgency to complete and begin the H2Ohio program.

To keep focus, BAO is pointing out that on July 1, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issued a bulletin that it detected the first microcystis bloom of the summer near Toledo. It extended from the Maumee State Park to six miles offshore. It’s the same toxic microcystin that called national attention to the algae problems when a three-day “do-not-drink” advisory was issued for Toledo water consumers in 2014.

One of the delays in getting a valid plan under way is the recurring argument for farm subsidies and aid from taxpayers. Truth is, farming generates more waste than manufacturing industries because the latter have long been required to invest in technology that captures and processes their wastes.

In my opinion, Ohio’s farm industry should not expect the taxpayers and/or ratepayers of the many municipal water systems that draw their water from Lake Erie to accept all the burdens of keeping dangerous contaminants out of Ohio’s most precious natural resource. Lake Erie is an environmentally fragile lake on which thousands of Ohio families boat, fish, swim and recreate each year. It’s also Ohio’s biggest single drawing card for $15.1 billion in annual tourism.

Don Scavia, a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist, said it best: “Until the phosphorus inputs are reduced significantly and consistently so that only the mildest blooms occur, the people, the ecosystem, and the economy of this region are being threatened.”

The Governor and the General Assembly should take direct action now, says BAO.

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