Fisheries and Oceans considering funding for Mississagi Lighthouse

OTTAWA—The lobbying of Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, in the House of Commons last week appears to be bearing fruit as the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now considering providing additional funds for a new roof to replace the tarp being installed as a temporary fix for the Mississagi Lighthouse.

“What jumped out at me is that they will consider funding,” said Rick Nelson, co-chair of the LaCloche-Manitoulin Lighthouse Association (LMLA) after Ms. Hughes addressed the subject in a parliamentary adjournment debate in the House of Commons last week. “What we’re hearing is that they are open to discussion about providing funding up front for the Mississagi Lighthouse for the work that needs to be done, before its ownership is transferred to the township,” said Mr. Nelson. “This is important to us and the DCIA (Dawson Citizens’ Improvement Association. It would be a deal breaker if no funding is going to be provided at all.”

“In order for municipalities to take on ownership of lighthouses government funding is needed. Local municipalities don’t have the money to pay up front,” said Mr. Nelson. Randy Kamp (parliamentary secretary to the minister of DFO, said in the debate that during the negotiations for the transfer of the Mississagi Light there may be money given to help cover the expenses. “It sounds as if there might be some type of breakthrough to provide the money up front, rather than later,” Mr Kamp said.

Ms. Hughes pointed out in a release, “the hard work of the LMLA needs an infusion of cash to support the dream of theme-based tourism featuring Manitoulin Island lighthouses.” The MP paid tribute to the group, “which has worked tirelessly to make sure the Mississagi Straits Lighthouse is handed off in a reasonable state of repairs.”

“They are joined by other groups across the country who are working to preserve these grand structures that are not merely surplus in the eyes of their communities, but are powerful reminders of our history,” said Ms. Hughes as she addressed the subject in the parliamentary adjournment debate.

Ms. Hughes said that people who visit the Mississagi Lighthouse see a structure that is just hanging on and bears little resemblance to the functioning structure that played a significant role in Great Lakes maritime history.

“Tarps adorn the building to protect it from the elements and it could not be described as anything near to ship-shape,” said Ms. Hughes. “Yes this is an official heritage site and is the cornerstone of significant efforts to foster a tourist industry centred on Manitoulin lighthouses.”

Ms. Hughes noted that, “while local municipalities and residents are willing to take on responsibility for area lighthouses, they simply do not have the resources to bring the structures up to a reasonable standard of repair from their current state.”

She said that it is imperative that the DFO, as present owners of these structures, ensure the lighthouses are transferred to local municipalities in reasonable condition or with adequate financial resources to fund essential repairs, including leaking roofs and deteriorating foundations.

“Simply put, the costs associated with repairing these aging structures are prohibitive for Manitoulin municipalities acting alone and it will take federal support to ensure this initiative is possible,” said Ms. Hughes. “The future caretakers of the historic and socio-economically significant Manitoulin lighthouses implore the federal government to do the right thing.”

Mr. Kamp said in the debate, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the member opposition on the issue of the maintenance and preservation of Canada’s lighthouses, in particular the Mississagua Straits Lighthouse on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island.”

“Lighthouses have made significant contributions to maritime safety over the years,” said Mr. Kamp. “The role of lighthouses has evolved over time as a result of advances in marine navigation technology. In many instances the principal value of lighthouses is now reflected in the tourism-based ventures that have been established at these sites. In fact, the Mississauga Straits lighthouse property has been leased since 1993 to local interests that have developed the site as a popular regional tourist destination.”

In recognition of the historic importance of lighthouses, the government enacted the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act on May 29, 2008, said Mr. Kamp. Three hundred and forty-eight federally owned lighthouses were nominated for heritage designation during the act’s two year petitioning period. All lighthouses for which petitions were received will be considered for designation by May 29, 2015. He noted that many lighthouse structures have been designated as surplus and made available through alternative ownership opportunities, either through the regular divestiture process or the provisions of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

“Funding to maintain real property assets is limited and must be prioritized in a manner that sustains federal programs and services,” said Mr. Kamp. “Long-term investments and assets that are expected to be divested are not prudent to hold and would require that funding be diverted from projects that are critical for ongoing program mandates. For surplus lighthouses, short-term repairs are recommended to safeguard the structural integrity of the buildings, pending their eventual divestiture.”

Mr. Kamp went on to say, “I am pleased to inform the House that the Mississauga Straights Lighthouse has been nominated for designation under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. In accordance with the provisions of the act, a community-based organization has developed an alternative ownership proposal for this property. Negotiations to establish mutually acceptable terms of transfer are ongoing between the parties.”

“While Fisheries and Oceans Canada maintains a limited budget to subsidize the cost of certain site and building maintenance as part of the transfer process, it will consider such requests on a case by case basis,” Mr. Kamp said.

When pressed further by Ms. Hughes, Mr. Kamp said, “for surplus properties, such as the Mississagi Straights Lighthouse, short-term repairs are done to safeguard the structural integrity of the buildings pending their eventual divestiture. Negotiations with community-based interests to establish mutually acceptable terms of transfer for this particular lighthouse are ongoing and could include provisions to subsidize the cost of certain improvements as part of the transfer process. This government will continue to invest prudently in lighthouses within the federal inventory and facilitate opportunities for divestiture to ensure their preservation for future generations.”

“We all realize there is a rising debt in this country,” said Ms. Hughes. “What is interesting in the answers we received from Mr. Kamp is that it may indicate provisions would be made to provide funding for necessary repairs on this lighthouse, and others. The LMLA, DCIA don’t want to take on a white elephant. The government needs to make sure funds are provided to do the necessary work on the Mississagi and other lights before ownership is transferred. The minister has been open to discussions on this, and we are hoping, with fingers crossed, support will be provided.”

Tom Sasvari