JUNEAU (AP) -- Congress has approved a bill sponsored by Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski that will make it easier for private groups to preserve historic lighthouses, if it gets President Clinton's signature.
The Senate unanimously approved the House version of the measure, which amends the National Historic Preservation Act to set up a process allowing groups of lighthouse friends to receive surplus historic lighthouses at no cost.
''By preserving historic lighthouses, we preserve a symbol of that era in American history when maritime traffic was the lifeblood of the nation, tying isolated coastal towns through trade to distant ports around the world,'' Murkowski said in a statement earlier this month.
The bill is now on the desk of President Bill Clinton for his signature.
''The bill does not really specify specific amounts of grants'' for lighthouses, warned Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte. It does clear the way for conveyance of surplus lighthouses as excess property and lays the groundwork for a national historic light station program.
The bill requires that anyone who obtains a historic lighthouse open it ''for education, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservation purposes for the general public at reasonable times and under reasonable conditions.''
It does not allow owners to sell off lenses or other historic artifacts. And it gives the federal government the right to go onto the property at any time to maintain aids to navigation.
Alaska has 10 lighthouses that could benefit directly from the legislation, including eight in Southeast Alaska at Cape Decision, Point Retreat, Cape St. Elias, Eldred Rock (south of Haines), Five Finger Island, Mary Island and Tree Point (both south of Ketchikan), and Guard Islands (north of Ketchikan).
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