By ALEX MALM
In 2004 the City of Warwick took title to the Conimicut Lighthouse from the Coast Guard, but as Mayor Frank Picozzi put it last Friday during a ceremony the city didn’t have the …
By ALEX MALM
In 2004 the City of Warwick took title to the Conimicut Lighthouse from the Coast Guard, but as Mayor Frank Picozzi put it last Friday during a ceremony the city didn’t have the funding needed to repair it.
“She’s strong and beautiful but for a long time she's needed some loving tender care,” said Picozzi.
Soon the lighthouse will be restored with a Congressional earmark grant.
For about a decade Congressional Community Project Funding grants weren’t being awarded, but last year after it was announced that they would be awarded again Congressman Jim Langevin called Picozzi to say he was accepting proposals from every community inside the District and that a handful would be chosen.
“I immediately chose the lighthouse,” said Picozzi.
Picozzi explained that the lighthouse doesn’t just benefit those in Warwick but the entire bay.
“Here in the upper bay at the entrance of the Providence River the beautiful Conimicut shoal lighthouse has stood as a sentinel guiding and protecting sailors since 1883, '' said Picozzi.
When Picozzi made his request public that he received support from across the state including Gov. Dan McKee, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, along with the City Council and the state delegation.
According to a press release the $775,000 grant “will be used to evaluate and restore the historic Conimicut Shoals Lighthouse.”
“That work includes replacing railings, repairing the existing jetty, weatherproofing the structure and a complete repainting of the exterior shell,” the press release reads.
The funds will also go towards building an interpretive educational kiosk at Conimicut Point Park.
“Today we are putting Conimicut Point on the map in a special way as an iconic landmark,” said Langevin.
In attendance for the ceremony with his original uniform on was Frederick Mikkelsen the former lighthouse keeper. Mikkelsen first started at the lighthouse in 1958 where he served until 1961. After being converted to electricity, the light was automated and it meant that keepers weren’t needed. In 1963 the keepers were reassigned.
One of the positives to the renovations that Mikkelsen pointed is the interpretive education component.
“It's neat they are going to have a way for stories to be told,” said Mikkelsen. “Modern technology at its best.”
Asked what story should be told, Mikkelsen cited the hurricane of 1960.
Mikkelsen said that the rocks making up the base of the light were totally submerged and waves would break against the light tower up to the third story window.
“You couldn’t see much,” said Mikkelsen.
From where Mikkelsen was speaking the newly installed warning signs about the sandbar were visible. The signs were erected last summer after a young girl and a man attempting to save her drowned.
“That's what has taken so many lives. People walk out on the sand bar and they have no idea what is going to happen,” said Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen said the lighthouse continues to be an important navigating tool for those in the water.
“All that water comes through here and it comes through in a hurry when the tide allows it,” said Mikkelsen.
After leaving the lighthouse for the last time in 1961 Mikkelsen said he “turned his back to the bay” for about 10 years.
Since then he began to give talks about life on a lighthouse in 1958. Mikkelsen said he has done talks for the American Lighthouse Society as well at several historical societies and libraries.
“It's dear to my heart,” said Mikkelsen.
McKee said that the 154 year history is part of the state’s history and said that the addition of the kiosk and the repairs made is going to make it a destination for people to visit.
“When we boost tourism we boost our economy,” said McKee.
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi whose family had a summer home in the area since the early 1960s said he walks his dog every morning he is able to the point with Langevin’s mother who lives a street away.
With the check in hand and the ceremony complete, the question is what is the next step?
Planning Director Tom Kravitz said in an email Monday that the “procurement will either be a combination RFQ/P process or straight bid but we won’t know until staff digs into it.”
Kravitz said it will depend on regulatory requirements and what is “deemed to be proper, staging, prep-work, and repainting methods given its location in the bay etc.”
According to the Lighthouse Friends organization the soon to be renovations isn’t the first time that major repairs were made to the Conimicut Lighthouse. The Friends’ website says the first Conimicut Lighthouse built in 1868 was “greatly out of repair” and was torn down in 1883 and replaced.
When the project is completed at least one Warwick native will be excited.
“I can’t wait until this project is completed,” said Langevin.