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Light's out at Cape Elizabeth Town Hall: Historic lighthouse lens to be returned to Coast Guard

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Light's out at Cape Elizabeth Town Hall: Historic lighthouse lens to be returned to Coast Guard

CAPE ELIZABETH — A historic, 600-pound lighthouse lens displayed in the lobby of Town Hall for 18 years will be returned to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Town Council on April 11 deemed the costs for maintenance and insurance outweigh the aesthetic value.

The 19th-century lens, valued at $2.5 million, has been on loan to the town from the Coast Guard as part of the Portland Head Light Museum collection, maintained and funded through the museum.

Facilities Director Greg Marles said updated insurance requirements could increase the cost to maintain the lens to about $7,500 annually. Before a revaluation, the lens was valued at $1.5 million and the annual insurance cost was about $2,600.

"The feeling for us to meet the financial requirements is that it's cost prohibitive," Marles said.

Crafted in 1874 in Paris, France, the massive, brass-framed lens originally topped the eastern tower at Two Lights. It has been on display in the lobby of Town Hall since 1995.

Town officials were hoping to find a new place for the lens ahead of Town Hall renovations, and were considering moving it into the Town Council chambers. But that plan was dropped after learning the loan conditions require the lens to be protected from ultraviolet light and from curious visitors.

If it were moved, the town would have to install window screens to block light and build a glass or plastic enclosure around the lens. It would also require a new glazing, which holds the lens in place.

The cost for those items is about $4,000, Marles said.

In addition, the Coast Guard also wanted the town to hire a "qualified lampist" in order to dismantle and move the lens, Marles said, noting there are only five qualified lampists in the country.

The move would take about four days, according to Marles, during which the town would have to pay about $7,000 to feed, lodge and cover travel expenses for the lampist.

After the council's decision, Marles notified a curator at the Coast Guard museum in Washington, D.C. He said he has yet to hear what the plan will be for the future of the lens.

Sections of Town Hall are being remodeled, and the space the lens occupies will be needed for town operations.

"I'd love to see it gone in the next two weeks, but I'm not sure that's going to happen," Marles said. "The goal is to have it gone as soon as possible."

The Coast Guard's original loan agreement with the town expired in 2005.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.