Cape May Whale Watcher Group Likely to Own Lighthouse

Cape May Whale Watcher Group Likely to Own Lighthouse

By Jack Fichter

Photo by Sandy Maloney
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SCHELLENGER’S LANDING- It looks likely the National Park Service will award ownership of the Brandywine Shoal Light Station, located seven miles off our coast, to a non-profit organization headed by Capt. Jeff Stewart Sr. and Jr., owners of the Cape May Whale Watcher boats and the Miss Chris Marina.

Their organization, Brandywine Shoal Lighthouse Inc., was selected by the National Park Service based on its application to own the lighthouse.
Cape May Whale Watcher has been running Lighthouse Adventure boat trips in conjunction with Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts since 1993.

The other contender for ownership of the lighthouse was the Cape May Maritime Museum and Education Center headed by Kevin Maloney.

Capt. Jeff Stewart Jr. said the paperwork to apply for ownership was daunting with an initial application of 350 pages.

Stephanie Toothman, associate director of cultural resources of the Department of the Interior, told Stewart and Maloney in written correspondence their applications were carefully evaluated by looking at their proposed maintenance, preservation, use, financial and management plans for the lighthouse.

“Based upon our review and evaluation, the National Park Service will recommend the Secretary of the Interior select Brandywine Shoal Lighthouse Inc. as the recipient of the Brandywine Shoal Light Station in accordance with the NHLPA (National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act),” she said.

The selection recommendation is subject to administrative review. Cape May Maritime Museum had 15 days beginning Feb. 11 to petition a review of the recommendation.
Maloney told the Herald Feb. 20 he was awaiting the advice of counsel about the possibility of asking for an administrative review “to make sure the process was followed.” He said he was facing a deadline of Feb. 25.

According to Toothman, if Cape May Maritime Museum does not request a review, the Secretary of the Interior will forward the recommendation to the Administrator of the General Services Administration.
The letters encouraged cooperation between the two organizations for the preservation and public use of Brandywine Shoal Light Station.

Capt. Jeff Stewart Jr. said the lighthouse needed a lot of restoration work before the organization will offer tours inside the building. He said a number of items needed to be addressed to make the lighthouse safe for work crews.
Stewart said there was the possibility of lead paint in the lighthouse. Railings need to be installed.

“There is the subject of being able to just get up into the lighthouse,” he said. “There is a ladder but it’s a very poor ladder.”

The lighthouse has no electricity. Its light and horn are solar powered. Stewart said the organization’s plans call for installation of a generator in the lighthouse’s generator room.

The group has a plan that would bring visitors to the lighthouse in about five years. He said to restore the lighthouse to perfect condition could take 10 years.
Stewart said passengers on Cape May Whale Watcher Lighthouse Adventure trips have asked for years about going inside the lighthouse.

It will take time but also a lot of money, he said. Stewart said Yank Marine of Tuckahoe would be a partner in the project.

Stewart said Brandywine Shoal Light Station may be the most important lighthouse in Delaware Bay since it is the first main light a ship encounters at the mouth of Delaware Bay where shipping traffic lines up for Paulsboro, Marcus Hook and Philadelphia.

The whale watcher boats will not fit inside a harbor around the lighthouse but the organization has smaller boats that can dock at the light station, said Stewart.

Lower Township Council voted unanimously Aug. 6, 2012 to accept the title to Brandywine Shoal Light Station if it was awarded to Cape May Maritime Museum. Maloney’s plan was to then lease the lighthouse from the township.