Monday, May 20, 2013
By MAX MONKS Staff Writer
The bidding war for Ram Island Ledge Light heated up on Tuesday as an eighth bidder upped the ante with a $100,000 bid.
The Coast Guard has put Ram Island Ledge Light in Casco Bay up for sale. A bidder known only as “AGIRARD” offered $100,000 on Tuesday.
2010 Press Herald file photo
The bidder, known only as "AGIRARD," is forcing the local group intent on acquiring the lighthouse to consider posting a second, and much higher, bid for the Cape Elizabeth landmark.
Robert Mueller of Brunswick, the executive director of the Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse Community, said his group has the money to make another bid, presumably of $105,000 because bids are made in increments of at least $5,000. But he was unwilling to disclose exactly how much the group had available.
Mueller organized a Maine-based social networking campaign in which he created an online community of owners, each of whom would contribute at least $49 for a Keeper of the Lighthouse Membership deed.
Since he announced his campaign two week ago, more than 200 people have contributed amounts ranging from $49 to $10,000.
"We have enough to bid at this point. I will check the auction sometime before three o'clock tomorrow and then make a decision," said Mueller, referring to today's 3 p.m. deadline.
The auction, hosted by the U.S. General Services Administration, is in a "soft closing," so every time a bid is made, the deadline is pushed back to 3 p.m. the following day. If Mueller bids today, the deadline would be pushed back another 24 hours.
Ram Island Ledge Light opened in 1905 to mark the hazardous submerged shoals at the entrance to Portland Harbor. The Coast Guard will continue to operate the 77-foot navigational lighthouse, but it needs someone to maintain it. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
After Mueller's group posted a bid of $15,000 on Aug. 17, an anonymous party known as "tugdocto" surprised potential buyers by placing a $35,000 bid on Sept. 2. Over the past week, several other buyers entered the auction and set off a bidding war that has caused the price to skyrocket and raised questions about the lighthouse's realistic value.
Mueller was not surprised by the current price, attributing the frenzied bidding to his proposed fundraising model.
"My expectation was that it would go between $70,000 and $120,000, but it would have gone for lower if I hadn't stirred the pot," he said. "My business model brought in the attention of some big real estate developers."
While potential owners scramble to outbid each other, Timothy Harrison, the publisher of Lighthouse Digest, is perplexed by the lack foresight buyers are showing.
"It seems like $100,000 is being thrown away because they could have gotten it for free," said Harrison.
According to Harrison, the National Historic Preservation Act of 2000 contains a clause that allows nonprofit organizations to take on ownership of a lighthouse at no cost.
"If you're going to spend that kind of money, why didn't someone work with a local nonprofit and use the money for renovations?" Harrison asked. "Bob Mueller's ideas are very clever, and I really hope he wins the bid. Unfortunately I don't think he had time to contact these nonprofits."
But even without the help of nonprofits, private buyers continue to purchase lighthouses, most recently in New York, where an unnamed developer bought the Latimer Reef Lighthouse for $225,000 on Aug. 23.
Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org