In this season of darkness, we look to a beacon of light, shepherding people to safety, we take comfort in heritage. We have such a beacon of light, a connection to heritage in our Stepping Stones Lighthouse. And just like in the beloved story, “A Christmas Carol,” it calls upon us to look past, present and to the future.
Much has been made – appropriately – of how important it is to preserve such precious connections to our past. It is humbling and illuminating to do so. I want to focus on what the Lighthouse can be going forward.
This “Christmas Carol” begins on a boatride out to the Lighthouse. Not any boat. A hybrid engine that incorporated futuristic technology to reduce its carbon emissions. Except it isn’t “futuristic” at all. It’s happening now.
In an odd way, the boat ride meant to showcase the need to save the Stepping Stones Lighthouse showed how preserving the past could also provide a window to protecting our future, while making our present a better place. It began with the future-is-now boat that took us out there. But after the visit was over, I had another vision: that the Stepping Stones Lighthouse could have an added purpose for the 21st century.
A group of supporters and advocates and should-be advocates from the community were invited to take a boat ride from Steppingstone Park’s dock to the Lighthouse to get a better view of this marvelous architectural jewel and a glimpse at the work that needs to be done to repair its aging brickwork and such. We were reminded of the Lighthouse’s importance to navigation in what is really a very treacherous part of the Long Island Sound – in the 1770s, it was called “Devil’s Belt” and the reefs as the “Devil’s Stepping Stones,” a name that continued until 1877 when the lighthouse opened and the name shorted to “Stepping Stones”.
On one side of the Lighthouse, boulders make the depth as little as five-feet (even less in low tide), while on the north side, the depths go to 105 feet – some of the deepest water in the Sound. There is an elongated triangle marked by buoys that stretches pretty much from the lighthouse to the Merchant Marine Academy and Steppingstone where mariners are not to sail.
The Lighthouse has long since been automated, but the Lighthouse is no longer the federal government’s responsibility, but rather the stewardship has been taken over by the Town of North Hempstead. The federal government doesn’t care whether there is a picturesque architectural jewel, or a sterile metal pole with a light on top. But our community surely should care. So the Great Neck Historical Society and the Great Neck Park District are collaborating together with the Town to raise money and do the necessary repairs. (Full disclosure: I am a Great Neck Historical Society board member and member of society’s Lighthouse Restoration committee.)
Other communities have saved their lighthouses, which, in each case, have become a major attraction and in their own way an engine for economic progress.
Already, our elementary school students from JF Kennedy have taken up the Lighthouse cause – entranced by the stories of the lighthouse keepers and their families – and in the process, learned not just about history, but more about building the lighthouse, living in the lighthouse. Last year, students participated in a contest to make their own lighthouse.
More of the community needs to be involved, for indeed, the Lighthouse is one of the key structures that bind us as a community.
The Saddle Rock Grist Mill is another. Indeed, it was the Grist Mill, which dates back to the early 1700s, was largely the reason the Great Neck peninsula was settled – which is one of the only tidal mills left.
It is important to appreciate and cherish our shared heritage – even when most of us have been here perhaps a few years, a few decades. When we choose to move here, to set down our roots here, we take up the mantle of those who have come before. It becomes our heritage, our community. And much of that heritage has to do with our proximity to a vital waterway.
That’s one side of this equation.
As it happens, the boat that took us on this marvelous ride was the “beta” of a new hybrid design that uses a fraction of the Fossil fuel of a comparable boat, and mostly uses electricity. The boat was brought down by Micah Tucker, GM of Derecktor Shipyard of Mamaroneck, who grew up in Great Neck, graduated Great Neck North (and used to drive the Steppingstone launch boat), and now manages the Derecktor Shipyard of Mamaroneck. The boat was built by Amtech – (Alternate Marine Technology), which developed the hybrid diesel-electric engine. What it means is that instead of a 20-passenger boat that might use 75 gallons of fuel, this boat, with 65 passengers, uses only 5-6 gallons. The technology could be (and is) being used on 200-passenger ferries.
Let’s consider the implications of this technology.
Bob Kunkel, president of Amtech, who was aboard this boatride, is also hooked up with Harbor Harvest, which utilizes another innovative sustainable technology from a Canadian company called Urban Cultivators, has developed a method to grow 14 fresh herbs and vegetables year round in very short periods of time -fresh herbs in 7 days, vegetables in 12-14 days.
Kunkel’s idea is to use these boats to bring farm-to-table fresh produce between Long Island and Connecticut, making it practical and affordable for growers, by cutting out the five-hour drive, gallons of burning fossil fuel, and the expensive tolls. What’s more, the vessel is really cool looking, so this would overcome local objections (noise, smoky smell, and commercial boat ‘look’). This could go back the other way, as well: there is already a market for Long Island’s potatoes (remember when we used to be a major producer of potatoes?), while Connecticut produces dairy and meat. Now imagine restaurateurs and retail shops having access to fish that didn’t have to spend five hours in traffic to get to stores from the Fulton Fish Market.
Think of the economic boon to Long Island, while doing a great service to reducing the carbon emissions that are pushing up temperatures and sea levels to where the earth is becoming uninhabitable.
And that’s the present – sustainable solutions actually make our present healthier and happier. Imagine fresh food without GMOs and chemicals. Imagine new markets for urban farmers, even suburban gardeners using hydroponics and such. Imagine whole new sustainable economies. It means that fresh fish can be delivered in a fraction of the time.
But this all got me thinking about new uses for our lighthouse, and also about the Saddle Rock Grist Mill that provided a major impetus to colonial settlement of the Great Neck Peninsula (putting it on the map, as it were). Here’s a completely out-of-the-box idea for saving the Lighthouse, and giving it a new lease on life (and find new economic basis of support): energy production.
Think about it: water power was one of the earliest forms. The shallow area beside the Lighthouse might be ideal for the emerging hydropower technology – small underwater turbines that are turned by the current. The distance underwater to shore is short. The Great Neck Peninsula – or at least a part of it – could have its own source of electricity.
Funding should come from the State of New York, itself, through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which is looking to invest in research for clean energy projects. For example, in April, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $160 million investment designed to grow large scale clean energy projects statewide. As part of the State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy, this funding is available to support public-private sector partnerships in clean energy projects. Funding is administered competitively, to incentivize proposals to improve energy affordability and reliability, while expanding new economic development opportunities and protecting the environment.
“This funding is a crucial resource for the development of New York’s clean energy infrastructure, and by supporting large scale projects we are ensuring that the grid can meet the needs of a growing economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “Investing in these kinds of projects is another example of how we are building a cleaner and more sustainable future in New York State, and I look forward to seeing that progress unfold in the years ahead.”
REV calls for creating a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable energy system in New York State. This funding will support significant private investment in renewable energy sources such as wind farms, fuel cells, biomass facilities, renewable biogas and the upgrading of small- to medium-sized hydropower projects that provide power to the electric grid.
For every $1 invested in Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Main Tier projects, New York realizes $3 in economic benefits. More than $3 billion of direct investment in New York State is expected as a result of existing Main Tier projects in the form of jobs, payments to public entities, in-state purchase of goods and services and land leases.
NYSERDA’s previous nine RPS Main Tier solicitations for large-scale renewable projects have resulted in approximately 2,036 megawatts of installed capacity at 65 projects that, once operational, will generate more than five million megawatt-hours of renewable energy annually. Another Main Tier solicitation is expected to be released in 2016.
“While we envision a more localized power grid in the future, it is imperative we ensure our large-scale generation sources are as clean as possible,” New York State Energy and Finance Chairman Richard Kauffman said, “With certainty and transparency, New York State is establishing itself as an attractive environment for private developers to invest and create new jobs in the state’s growing clean economy.”
In July, Cuomo announced awards of approximately $100,000 each to 83 communities across the state to support innovative microgrid projects. These awards were granted as part of the NY Prize microgrid competition to support a new generation of community-based power under Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy.
“New Yorkers have first-hand experience regarding the need for resilient and efficient power systems that can withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store for us,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will help communities across New York invest in these new systems, which will ensure critically important institutions such as police and fire stations, hospitals and schools can continue operating during and in the aftermath of an extreme weather event.”
The 83 communities will study the feasibility of installing a community microgrid—a standalone energy system that can operate independently of the main grid in the event of a power outage. Such systems would integrate renewable power with other advanced energy technologies to create a cleaner, more affordable and more resilient localized energy grid for a limited number of users. 14 projects on Long Island won awards.
I’m thinking that an underwater energy project fits all of these objectives – promoting localized production and distribution of clean, renewable energy. This could be a pilot project – perhaps under the aegis of an authority like the Great Neck North Water Authority or the Town of North Hempstead, which could host its own design competition – to demonstrate how such small-scale decentralized energy production could liberate communities.
Indeed in October, Cuomo announced the launch of a clean energy competition for colleges and universities in New York State. The competition will challenge student-led coalitions across the state to develop creative ideas to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions on school campuses and beyond. The three groups that propose the best ideas to invest in clean energy will each win $1 million to help implement their plans. Why Not the US Merchant Marine Academy (which won a national award for its solar house), or NYIT or LIU-CWPost or Stony Brook?
Such underwater power technology is already happening. Scotland is doing it. And a couple of years ago, I met a retired engineer at a Nassau County event, holding plans in his hands for just such a small-scale underwater turbine but he was having trouble getting anyone to listen to him.
In the meantime, though, the Town of North Hempstead, the Great Neck Historical Society and the Great Neck Park District have been championing a campaign to first do the urgent maintenance to preserve the structure, and then, long-term, to raise as much as $4 million for the complete restoration.
In this season of light, in this season of enfolding ourselves in heritage and tradition, of looking back and looking ahead, you might also consider giving something to keeping our own light glowing. And perhaps the moral of this “Christmas Carol” is that progress and preservation are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
The holiday lights will be coming down soon, but our Stepping Stones Lighthouse will continue to be our beacon and symbol of our connection past, present and future, for all the days of the year.
You can contribute to the Great Neck Historical Society Lighthouse Fund (PO Box 234483, Great Neck NY 11023), or online at www.greatneckhistorical.org/news.html, or call 516-869-6311.
© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin