Jul. 31—FRANKFORT — A lightbulb went off for the U.S. Coast Guard AIDS to Navigation when they visited the Point Betsie Lighthouse.
In February 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard upgraded the bulb from an acrylic light system to an LED bulb, according to Point Betsie Lighthouse Executive Director Casey Ottinger.
Less than six miles away, the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse is expecting their own light updates from the USCG soon, according to Frankfort City Superintendent Joshua Mills.
"We went from having to change it every four hours back in the day, to now with this new system, the Coast Guard only needs to come in less than once a year," Ottinger said.
The structure and grounds of Point Betsie are run by him and his team, while the lightbulb is managed by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Ottinger.
This AIDS to Navigation USCG division is responsible for maintaining lighted and unlighted buoys and lighthouses, day beacons, lights and ranges. There are currently 129 active lighthouses in the state of Michigan, according to the Michigan Lighthouse Guide.
The federal base for this USCG division is in Seattle, WA, according to their official website.
After the Coast Guard transitioned from the old system to the new one, Ottinger said they have only returned one other time, two weeks after the initial installation in February.
For its neighbor, the North Breakwater Lighthouse, Mills said it is owned by the city, while the pier it sits on is owned by the federal government and its core of engineers. The actual light is managed by the USCG, just like Point Betsie's.
"The light itself is always going to be the responsibility of the Coast Guard to maintain," he said. "They are responsible for all of those navigational aids on the Great Lakes."
The North Breakwater Lighthouse currently has a fourth order Fresnel lens, which the USCG plans to update in the near future, Mills said. He explained that this kind of lens is special because there are only one or two people in the country that can work on them.
Eventually, Mills said the USCG will pull the Fresnel lens out, and replace it with a more modern LED-type light, like the one Point Betsie just got in February. The old lens will be on loan to the city after its removal, so they can display it in a place where the public can enjoy it.
In order to do that, the city has to insure the lens for $450,000, agree to keep it in a climate controlled environment and have one of the experts come back and re-assemble it, according to Mills.
"The Coast Guard was planning on having the Fresnel lens removed sometime this year," he said. "But, I have not had any communications with them for about a year."
Mills attributes this lag in communication to common stressors he said everyone is dealing with post-pandemic, such as staffing shortages.
Since its installation, Mills believes the Fresnel lens has had nothing done to it except for regular cleanings. The most complicated part of the removal process, he said, will be disassembling the lens piece by piece and carrying each piece down six flights of ladders and then to the shore.
Mills said he spoke to Point Betsie about their own light changes and restoration efforts, since they also used to have a Fresnel lens, which they now display. The Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse declined to help Mills out with the North Breakwater Lighthouse, which he said he understood.
"Getting volunteers in today's society is getting more challenging than it ever has," he said. "So we're just trying to do our best."
According to Mills, Frankfort is currently in the middle of a $1 million crowdfunding campaign to restore the body of the lighthouse. The campaign has raised $26,000 so far.
"We want to ensure that it stands at the entry of our harbor in perpetuity," Mills said.
Both lighthouses are currently on the National Register of Historic Places. Point Betsie was originally built in 1858, and the Frankfort North Breakwater was built approximately 50 years later, in 1912.