WIND POINT - Local officials say a light installed in the Wind Point Lighthouse in 2007 by the U.S. Coast Guard is too dim, has limited rotation and flashes incorrectly, which all can cause hazards to boaters. That's why area officials and safety personnel are pushing the Coast Guard and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to change the light back to the previous model.
"Everybody in the village notices the light is not as bright as it used to be and everybody's concerned about safety," said Wind Point Village President Bill Bensman.
Numerous boater complaints have been filed about the light, said Tony Herrmann, of the City of Racine Harbor Commission.
"It's got no ability to penetrate light haze or fog," Hermann said. "The sweep of the light that could be seen as far out as 25 to 30 miles (with the old light), today you're lucky to be able to see that at seven to eight miles."
Herrmann said on a good day the new point of light, from a Vega VRB-25 light, can be seen from about 16 nautical miles out on Lake Michigan. The old light, an Aero Beacon DCB-24R, could be seen from 29 nautical miles.
The old Aero Beacon light served Wind Point for 35 years with limited maintenance issues and no safety concerns, Herrmann said. It was replaced by the Coast Guard about three years ago because its gears failed. The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the Wind Point light while the Village of Wind Point maintains the lighthouse building.
When the Beacon needed replacing, the Coast Guard turned to the Vega light because of a new overall Coast Guard policy that moves toward more modern, cost-effective lighting and calls for using the Vega, said Kalim Wigfall, of lighthouse management for the Ninth District Coast Guard Office, which oversees Wind Point.
Though the Vega costs less and uses less energy, local officials also said it's got worse visibility, which for them is a greater concern for navigation and safety, especially when it comes to water rescues.
"I've heard of other towns where the Coast Guard put the Vega model in there and it's not doing it for them," said Jerry Pennington, in sales for the Carlisle & Finch Co. of Ohio, which manufactures the Beacon. "(The Vega) is more energy efficient but not necessarily optically efficient."
That's why Herrmann, the Racine County Sheriff's Department and James Rooney, a local representative of both the City of Racine Harbor Commission and also the State of Wisconsin Waterways Commission, have all written letters to the Coast Guard throughout the last two years asking the old Beacon be fixed or a new Beacon be brought in.
Responses to the letters promised to modify the Vega, but that help was slow in coming or didn't come at all, additional letters show. Area Coast Guard personnel this spring finally told the letterwriters their hands are tied - because of the overall Coast Guard light policy, Wigfall said any decision to change the Wind Point light must be made by the Coast Guard Commandant's Office, the highest level of the Coast Guard.
So Rooney wrote a letter to the commandant May 3. He's still waiting on a response, which Wigfall said will come.
"We are actively engaged with trying to find a solution to the situation," he said. "We're looking at other options for lighting equipment."
Wigfall said they're doing that despite a Coast Guard inspection last July that found "no discrepancies" with the Wind Point light.
While they're waiting, Wind Point's Bensman in May wrote a letter to Ryan asking for his help. When asked about the letter last week, Ryan said in an e-mail that he understands those in Wind Point are frustrated by the difficulties they have encountered in trying to change the lighthouse light.
"I have contacted the U.S. Coast Guard," he wrote, "and asked officials to review the concerns residents have expressed and I will continue to work with residents and federal officials to help address this matter."
Herrmann said he plans to meet with Ryan this week and that he knows of three other towns that have fought to remove the Vega and succeeded. He hopes Wind Point will be next.