People walk on the Rockland Breakwater on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― A volunteer group is turning over the responsibility of maintaining and improving the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse to the city.

The group, Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights, has leased the building that houses the lighthouse at the end of its nearly mile-long breakwater for about 20 years.

That has now ended.

Due to costs and volunteers getting older, Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said the group did not renew the lease when it expired last month. The city must now assume responsibility for maintaining one of the city’s most iconic treasures.  

While immediate maintenance is minimal, Glaser said the city will soon begin forming a plan for how it will maintain the building next year as well as keep the building open to the public as it has been in recent years. However, this past summer the building was not open to the public.

“It’s so iconic for the city of Rockland, that we basically need to make sure that it is maintained and we need to make sure that it is available for people to take a tour even if it’s just on weekends,” Glaser said.

The responsibility is for the building itself. The light itself is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, since the beacon and its horn serve as an active navigation aid. The granite breakwater is owned and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was established in 1902, following the construction of the granite breakwater which was completed in 1899, according to the American Lighthouse Foundation.

Through the Maine Lights Program, the federal government transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the city of Rockland in 1998. In 2001, the Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights ― a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation ― began leasing the lighthouse and assumed responsibility for maintenance and improvements, according to the group’s website.

The building has been uninhabited since the 1960s. When the Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights took responsibility for it, the group embarked on a restoration and clean-up effort to clear the building of hazardous materials, restore the tower’s railing, install new windows and storm shutters to prevent vandalism.

Over the years, other improvements have been made and in recent years the lighthouse has been open to the public with volunteer-guided tours.

The city will soon work on a plan for how it will care for the building and keep it open to the public, which is the ultimate goal, Glaser said. The city has an existing lighthouse advisory committee, which will likely lead the discussion. However, several volunteers are needed for the committee.

If it is decided that another non-profit organization is better suited to care for the lighthouse, Glaser said the city may go through a request for proposals process.

For now, the city will focus on winterizing the lighthouse building before colder weather sets in.