By Kathy Chouteau
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to benefit the East Brother Light Station to restore power to the 147-year-old island lighthouse and bed & breakfast following the devastating failure of its underwater power cable April 1. Light Station Keeper Desiree Heveroh organized the online effort to raise $150,000 to repower the Light Station by repairing the cable or by other means since the U.S. Coast Guard, its owner, is financially unequipped to do so.
The GoFundMe will benefit the East Brother Light Station, Inc., the nonprofit behind the Light Station’s rehabilitation in 1979 and its opening the following year as a bed and breakfast inn, according to Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. The mayor, who serves as president of the board of directors of East Brother Light Station, Inc., said in his E-Forum that the nonprofit maintains and operates it as a public service and that inn operation revenues have funded more than $1 million in maintenance and repairs over four decades, while volunteers have contributed another $1 million or so in in-kind services.
Mayor Butt stated in his E-Forum that he met with Captain Dan Ursino, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit Oakland and Tyrone Conner, chief, Aids to Navigation, 11th Coast Guard District on April 8 on the island to discuss the matter. While the Coast Guard previously replaced a damaged cable to the Light Station in 1991, “they were not optimistic that the U.S. Coast Guard would be able repeat the cable replacement,” said the mayor.
However, the Coast Guard is “looking at installing a small solar panel to operate the [lighthouse] light…which would address their responsibilities for aids to navigation, but leave the rest of the island without power,” he added.
According to Mayor Butt in his E-Forum, the Coast Guard suggested going off-grid by installing solar PV with a battery backup. Although that option is being evaluated, Mayor Butt said batteries like the Tesla PowerWall can store only enough energy for about 24 hours—which is insufficient to operate over numerous cloudy or rainy days. A backup generator would be needed, requiring frequently hauling fuel to the Light Station’s island. In addition, installing solar and a battery would still be very costly, per the mayor.
“If we have to go to off grid solar, the estimated cost is about $200,000. Replacing the submarine power cable is estimated at two to three times that much,” said the mayor in a correspondence to The Standard.
“Worst case, this may finally be the end of our 40-plus year steward stewardship of this historic landmark. Without our continuous attention, it would quickly deteriorate and fall prey to vandals as it did prior to 1979. The public would lose a critical historic asset forever,” said Mayor Butt in his E-Forum.
As different options for restoring power are explored, the GoFundMe will help East Brother Light Station, Inc. finance their ultimate decision. As of this writing, more than $50,000 had been donated toward fulfilling the $150,000 goal.
“Our History includes being saved 42 years ago by a large group of people [who] cared enough to pool their collective resources, connections, donations and love to save East Brother Light Station. We are once again in historic times and we need your help to save her again,” said Heveroh on the GoFundMe page.
Per Heveroh, East Brother Light Station, which is located on an island at the entrance to San Pablo Bay, is the oldest wood frame lighthouse left in the U.S., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Registered California Historic Landmark. The Light Station is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donate to the GoFundMe here and learn more about East Brother Light Station here.