New London Maritime Society pushes harder for dock as it faces another property dispute

In this 2011 Day file photo, the New London Harbor Lighthouse in New London is photographed from the water during a lighthouse tour. (Day file photo)
In this 2011 Day file photo, the New London Harbor Lighthouse in New London is photographed from the water during a lighthouse tour. (Day file photo)

New London – The New London Maritime Society’s goal of establishing a dock at New London Harbor Light has become more urgent for the nonprofit organization, which runs the Custom House Maritime Museum on Bank Street, as it faces yet another property dispute with neighbors of the historic lighthouse on Pequot Avenue.

John and Elizabeth Ring, who own the property to the south of the lighthouse property, recently placed a “private property” sign at the location of the right of way for the lighthouse and created a barrier by placing 2-foot-high plants and a low metal wire, according to society President George Sprecace.

Neighbors to the north of the lighthouse, Donald and Bonita Waesche, sued the Maritime Society last year for trespassing and encroaching on the enjoyment of their property by bringing construction crews and visitors to the lighthouse. Sprecace said the attorney for the Maritime Society had recently filed a motion in federal court seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

The society filed an injunction against the Rings earlier this month, according to Sprecace. He said that at a hearing slated for June 29 in New London Superior Court, a judge may determine whether to allow the injunction to continue. A phone number for the Rings could not be located Sunday, and the family did not appear to be home at their residence.

The creation of a dock to serve as another entryway to the lighthouse is a “no-brainer,” according to Sprecace, who mentioned that visitors have in the past accessed the lighthouse by boat and waded ashore.

“I think it’s a no-brainer for a property like the lighthouse property, including the lighthouse itself, for which we have an obligation to invite and permit the public to visit it,” he said, explaining that the society has talked about putting in a dock for two to three years.

The society launched a fundraising campaign on crowdfunding website Indiegogo last week for the proposed dock. The page, authored by society director Susan Tamulevich, explains that the society plans to apply for funds from a state grant program that matches project funding three to one, providing up to $125,000. The dock is estimated to cost $175,000.

The society is aiming to raise $31,250 in order to be eligible for the full $125,000 available, according to the campaign page. The society had raised $400 as of 9 p.m. Sunday, with 18 days left in the campaign, according to the Indiegogo page.

“Restoring the historic dock at the lighthouse and exercising our riparian rights will allow us access to the lighthouse during reasonable weather and when we can afford to hire one of our local captains to ferry us over. But we still have a long haul ahead of us with the legal issues with our neighbors to establish a path by land. We fear that the neighbor bringing the lawsuit can tie up this little nonprofit for quite some time -- and this appears to be the plan,” the Indiegogo page states.

“We do believe that our rights will be upheld in court, and with that battle won, we'll have struck a blow for all lighthouse friends groups,” it continues. “We also will have made the option of adopting a lighthouse a bit less daunting for other groups like us, who fear this kind of treatment from NIMBY neighbors on the waterfront!”

The society owns three lighthouses. It acquired Harbor Light from the federal government through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2009.

Sprecace said the federal government maintains a right to the property. Should the society fail to meet it obligation to maintain the property and make it publicly accessible, ownership of the property would revert to the federal government, he said.

The society scheduled an open house with tours at Harbor Light for Sunday, June 21, but canceled due to rain and poor visibility. Sprecace said the tours would be rescheduled for another day.

t.townsend@theday.com

Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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