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

ROCKLAND, Maine ― City officials are seeking federal funding to help make needed repairs to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.

Located at the end of a nearly mile long granite breakwater, the lighthouse is one of Rockland’s top destinations so the city is making its upkeep a priority.

“Since it’s a huge tourist attraction, I think everybody in the community and the city would want to make sure that it’s looking good,” Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said.

The city is currently focusing its restoration efforts on exterior work, which is estimated to cost a total of about $250,000. Half of that — or $125,000 — could come from federal funds, if the Maine’s congressional delegation can earmark it. The city would be responsible for the balance of funds. The restoration would include exterior improvements to restore the appearance of the iconic lighthouse, from replacing rotting window sills to getting a fresh paint job.

Other repairs are needed too. Those include repointing of the brick foundation, repair and replication of rotted or missing shutters and trim, plaster work, masonry repairs, repainting and the replacement of a deteriorating beam in the roof of the building’s boathouse, according to an order passed unanimously Monday night by the Rockland City Council.

During the summer, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is typically bustling with tourists and residents alike, taking in views of Rockland Harbor and enjoying the nearly two-mile round-trip walk a jaunt down the breakwater offers.

More than a dozen people were walking the breakwater Tuesday afternoon. Among them were Rockland residents Bob and Susan Freeman who both said it’s a good thing that the city is pursuing repairs.

“To me the biggest reason is it’s just such an attraction and you don’t want the building to go into disrepair so bad that it falls down,” Bob Freeman said. “The sooner the better, cost wise.”

A volunteer group was responsible for the upkeep of the lighthouse for decades, but  last fall that responsibility was handed over to the city.

“It’s like any building we have we need to maintain and make sure it’s being well maintained and taken care of,” Luttrell said.

Rockland has established an advisory committee to create a plan for maintaining the building. Luttrell said the group is also working to have the lighthouse open for tours on select summer weekends, as has been done in recent years.

After getting approval from council Monday, city officials are working to submit requests for Congressionally Directed Spending to Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree. The city was recently successful in receiving funding through this avenue for a fish pier repair project. Rockland is also submitting a request for up to $1 million in federal dollars for a streetscape project in an area of downtown that connects Main Street to the waterfront.

It could be up to a year before it is determined whether or not Rockland will receive the federal funds it’s requesting. Luttrell said if the funding doesn’t come through, the lighthouse advisory committee will look for alternative fundraising.

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.

The navigational light itself is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The granite breakwater was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but Luttrell said the city is trying to determine who is responsible for repairs to the breakwater itself.  With gaps in between stones getting larger each year and sea level rise causing the breakwater to go underwater during high tides more frequently, future repairs may be needed.

“People are saying that it needs to have another layer [of stone] put on after so many more years. But we’re still working on trying to figure out who makes that determination and who is responsible for it,” Luttrell said.