You Paid For It: Chesapeake Light Tower

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by David Alan

WVEC

Posted on November 22, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:19 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Weathered and showing its age, the Chesapeake Light Tower has sat off the coast of Virginia Beach for more than 40 years.  The old structure is taxpayer owned and vacant.  The light tower is one of thousands of surplus government properties that cost you an estimated $17 billion dollars a year just to maintain.

"The ironic part is that even giving away these properties without getting a dime in the sale would still leave taxpayers out ahead, because maintenance costs would no longer be there," Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union said.

Documents show that maintaining the Chesapeake Light Tower isn’t cheap. The Coast Guard spends $50,000 of your money every two years to inspect the structure. 

Last spring, $440,000 was spent to repair a boat ramp and a ladder, even though the government says it plans to sell the structure next summer, as is.

"When you're spending $440,000 just to repair a ladder or something on it, it just seems astronomical," Jonathan Westervelt, one concerned taxpayer told us.

Recently, the city of Virginia Beach spent $50,000 to study the possibility of buying the structure and building a tower to collect data for the development of off-shore wind energy.

But after discovering lead paint and asbestos, and learning the structure would need $2.5 million in upgrades right now, and possibly millions of dollars of more work in the future, the city walked away.

"Certainly not a good deal for Virginia Beach taxpayers.  No, not at all," Bob Mathias of the city of Virginia Beach told 13News.

So, if it wasn't a good deal for Virginia Beach taxpayers, who would want it?

With deeper pockets, but still your pockets, we've learned a number of federal agencies are looking to buy the structure to help advance off-shore wind energy.

 Scientists say there is little doubt there is good wind off the coast and an industry which would create good-paying jobs and cut our dependency on foreign energy.

But as the government asks taxpayers to buy the real estate, maintain the real estate and upgrade the real estate, is there the political will in Washington to make this investment pay off?

Experts say off-shore wind energy needs more than just a down payment from taxpayers and a fresh coat of paint.  It needs the financial backing of the federal government.

"I think federal subsidies are vitally important to the off-shore wind industry. In the absence of subsidies for a developing industry like off-shore wind, it would be tough to get it up and off the ground," Michael Conathan of the Center for American Progress told us. 

The failure of the Super Committee to reach deal on deficit reduction is also a blow getting off-shore wind off the ground.

Experts with the Center for American Progress tell us budget triggers will cut the Department of Energy budget by 8-percent, making it "virtually certain" important spending on renewable energy would be cut.

Senator Mark Warner's office told us it is watching the Energy and Water appropriations bill for 2012.  House Republicans want to cut almost $6-billion from the President's request, including cuts to renewable energy programs.

 

 

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