New London Maritime Society Holds Out Hope For Little Gull Island

Bids leave nonprofit far behind, but organization is told that other factors will be considered in choosing recipient

The New London Maritime Society is hopeful that it may still be chosen as the recipient for Little Gull Island as bids on the property quickly outpace a made by the organization last week.

The General Services Administration auction has been extended to 3 p.m. today. A total of eight entities, which are kept anonymous, have bid on Little Gull Island. The New London Maritime Society—in collaboration with Save the Sound, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Quebec-Labrador Foundation with help from private donors and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—made its bid on Oct. 9. The most recent high bid of $371,000 was placed on Tuesday afternoon.

Jenny Contois, the district director for Rep. Joe Courtney, said the GSA evaluation process does not guarantee that the property will go to the highest bidder but rather the bidder most qualified to preserve the island.

The one-acre island has been recognized as a “critical foraging area for roseate and least terns,” both of which are on the federal endangered species list. The society’s bid seeks to preserve the island’s environment as well as the island’s historic 81-foot lighthouse, which was built in 1869 as a navigational aid for the Race in Long Island Sound. The beacon is actively maintained by the Coast Guard and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The society continued its fundraising effort after making its bid. The offer of one bidder, whose last bid was $340,000, increased automatically following the society’s bid. The auction is extended by 24 hours whenever a new bid is made. Susan Tamulevich, director of the Custom House Maritime Museum, said the society later wrote to the GSA offering to increase their bid to $150,000. The offer includes having the society take stewardship of the lighthouse while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would oversee the wildlife habitat.

“Our hope is that the GSA accepts our bid of $150,000—not because it is the highest; it isn't—but because it serves the highest good for the community and the environment and is closest in line with the goals of the National Lighthouse Preservation Act,” Tamulevich said in an e-mail to society members.

This act, passed in 2000, allows for historic light stations to be “transferred at no cost to federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit corporations, educational agencies, and community development organizations.” The society took stewardship of New London Harbor Light in 2010 and has expressed interest in acquiring Race Rock Light as well.

The society has set up a new Indiegogo crowd-sourcing site to receive additional donations for the auction. The donations to the first fundraising effort were not processed since the goal was not reached before the deadline, and anyone who contributed will receive a one-year membership to the New London Maritime Society regardless of whether they resubmit their donation in the renewed effort.

Tamulevich said she is concerned that Little Gull Island will be used for a tidal energy development if it is awarded to the high bidder. She said she supports alternative energy efforts, but did not think the Race was a good site for such development due to the wildlife habitats on Little Gull as well as Great Gull Island and Plum Island.

"This is just my speculation and I realize that private individuals can be excellent stewards of historic properties and habitats," said Tamulevich. "But the prices are going a little wild."

Though Tamulevich, U.S. Rep. Courtney and others in the conservationist world believe their emphasis on preservation might speak louder than dollars, Patrick Sclafani, public affairs officer for the GSA, said that the process of the auction “makes it clear that the high bid is the premier factor” in who will ultimately own Little Gull Island.

“Once bidding closes, then the GSA has an opportunity to review all the information they have at that point,” he said. “But the process dictates that the highest bid is the most important factor.”

Click on the real estate tab on http://gsaauctions.gov/ to see how bidding on progresses today on Little Gull Island.

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