Former Coast Guard commander leads New London Maritime Society

New London — In his more than three decades with the U.S. Coast Guard, retired Capt. Edward J. Cubanski III has flown search-and-rescue missions across the Eastern Seaboard, intercepted drug smugglers and most recently commanded the Coast Guard’s Sector Long Island Sound.

As the new president of the New London Maritime Society, his latest task is to lead the nonprofit organization through a financial rough patch and to end an ongoing feud with neighbors over public access to New London Harbor Light on Pequot Avenue.

Cubanski was elected as the president at the society's annual meeting last month and replaces Dr. George Sprecace, who has been president for the past eight years, during which time the society acquired three lighthouses from the federal government as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act program. Along with Harbor Light, the society owns Ledge Light and Race Rock Light.

Cubanski already is talking about mediation with the neighbors of Harbor Light — which remains the source of two lawsuits and the target of a cease-and-desist order by the city. Building partnerships was a major part of his job while commander of Sector Long Island Sound.

The society is battling with one lighthouse neighbor over a property line dispute and has appealed a Planning and Zoning Commission decision on a proposal that would have allowed lighthouse tours.

Cubanski, a Norwich native who now lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said his first priority is to resolve the Harbor Light access issue. He said mediation with Donald and Bonita Waesche, the neighbors who filed the federal suit, and meetings with city planning officials over zoning issues will be the first order of business.

“It’s our continued goal to make New London Harbor Lighthouse open to the public, and Race Rock, eventually,” Cubanski said. “The easiest way to do that, I think, is to work together with the neighbors to allow access to the public. We need to resolve the boundary issue without further ado. We need to get to the table and talk first.”

Cubanski said he can’t quite understand the resistance of neighbors to allow the public to the lighthouse. While he was still commander of Sector Long Island Sound, he lived with his family for three years at the Stratford Point Light property in Stratford and opened it up to the public in 2015 for the first time in decades. He said along with the groups of tourists, he was also always sure to invite the lighthouse neighbors.

One concession to neighbors in the immediate future, he said, is to cut an opening in a recently built wall on the grounds of the lighthouse so that visitors will not have to tread on the neighbor’s property as they have in the past.

In addition to highlighting the lighthouses as a historical tourism destination, Cubanski also said he hopes to help broaden the appeal of the society to include more young people and the Custom House Maritime Museum as a tourism destination for all of New England.

He said he has a few ideas to generate interest and hopefully more donations. After retirement this past summer, Cubanski spent 45 days and traveled 13,000 miles into 35 states to visit 45 of the nation’s national parks and historic sites.

He said a rebranding may be in order for the society, such as getting the word lighthouse into the name.

Sprecace, who remains a member of the board of trustees, said the society’s financial situation will be a challenging one for Cubanski. Not only have donations dwindled, but the society has suffered from competition with the emergence of Cross Sound Ferry’s lighthouse tours. Additionally, the battle to gain access to Harbor Light has taken its toll with legal fees.

“The bottom line is we’re having financial difficulties, but we’re working through them,” Sprecace said. “I wish (Cubanski) good luck and will do my best to help out as needed.”

Sprecace said he was able to step aside as president as soon as he saw a potential replacement.

“This is a great time to make a change and for him to take on the presidency,” Sprecace said.

Other leadership changes at the society include the election of Andrew Blacker as the new vice president to replace Robert Pittaway. Blacker is a University of Connecticut graduate with degrees in finance and natural resource economics, and he works as chef and manager at Carson’s Store in Noank. New trustees include Lloyd Beachy, Joanne Cain, Jefferson Harris and John Steffian Jr.

Susan Tamulevich, the society’s executive director, said in a statement she was looking forward to a “stellar year.”

“New faces, new ideas — New London Maritime Society is indeed fortunate to be infused with such positive energy,” she said.

 g.smith@theday.com

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