New leader could open path to ending Harbor Light dispute

New leadership at the New London Maritime Society holds out the promise that the bitter dispute that has blocked public access to the Harbor Light lighthouse on Pequot Avenue can be resolved.

The society recently elected Capt. Edward J. Cubanski III, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, as president. He succeeds Dr. George Sprecace, who served for the past eight years. Sprecace remains a member of the board of trustees.

Under Sprecace’s leadership the maritime society, which has as its primary task operating the Custom House Maritime Museum on Bank Street, saw its mission expand. It acquired three lighthouses under the federal National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. With ownership came the responsibility to maintain the lighthouses — the Harbor Light, Ledge Light and Race Rock Light — and assure public access.

Sprecace deserves credit for his contribution in broadening the society’s role, in the process helping preserve a vital part of local nautical history.

But Sprecace proved inept in dealing with neighbors of the Harbor Light who felt their privacy and property rights were not being respected during the restoration and public tours of the 18th century lighthouse.

When a zoning officer presented the NLMS with a cease-and-desist order because its visitor operations violated zoning regulations, it had the option of filing an application under existing regulations for a special permit to operate a museum in a residential zone. This could have provided the chance to establish rules both the property owners and the maritime society could live with.

Sprecace, however, instead persuaded the society board to seek a zone change. In the process, harsh rhetoric by all parties hardened bad feelings. The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the zone change application. The legal fight and the lack of public access both continue.

In taking over as president, Cubanski, a Norwich native who once commanded the Coast Guard’s Sector Long Island Sound, said his first priority is resolving the Harbor Light dispute. A change in perspective and the willingness to take a new approach could do wonders in that regard.

The dispute has hurt the society’s reputation and the legal fight drained its resources. Perhaps Cubanski’s experienced leadership can light the path to a solution.

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