• The Brothers Runs Out Of Juice



    Article by Lauren Hernández for SF Chronicle

    A 30-year old underwater power cable that keeps the lights on at the historic East Brother Light Station in San Pablo Bay has failed, and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt is pleading for help to get power back to the island.

    Butt is co-founder of a nonprofit that for 41 years has run the iconic bed and breakfast on the island, which is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Without power for refrigeration, heaters, dishwashers and appliances, the B&B’s run may come to an end.

    “That would be a real shame because... the buildings would deteriorate, the vandals would move in, the property would officially, ultimately, be destroyed,” Butt said Thursday night. “If we can’t operate it and make enough money to maintain it, we just have to walk away from it. Once that happens, it’s done. Coast Guard’s not going to take care of it.”

    The three-quarter-acre island is home to a 147-year old lighthouse and innkeepers run the property, where they host guests in a bed and breakfast, cook for guests, give historical tours of the lighthouse and do demonstrations of a 1934 diesel foghorn on the island.

    Power failed on the island on April 1. After a few days-worth of tests by an electrical contractor, Butt said, they determined the cable was the source of the failure.

    It’s not the first time the cable has needed replacement. In 1991, Butt said, the cable was struck by lightning and “blew up.” The Coast Guard replaced the cable at the time, Butt said.

    “Now it’s another 30 years, and we have another failure,” Butt said.

    Butt said he visited the island on Thursday with about five Coast Guard officials, some of whom were electricians. While Butt said Coast Guard officials have been “very responsive” to the outage, he said officials “advised us that we are on our own” because the Coast Guard does not have the “same level of assets and funding they had in 1991.”

    The Coast Guard is “looking at installing” a solar panel to operate the light “which would address their responsibilities for aids to navigation but leave the rest of the island without power,” he said.

    Butt said a new cable could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — money that the nonprofit doesn’t have.

    Now, Butt said he is asking anyone to persuade the Coast Guard to repair or replace the cable, and he is pursuing any grant opportunities to fund a replacement cable or solar power installation to keep the lights on at the B&B.

    “In the best of all worlds, the Coast Guard would put a new cable in because that could be done fairly quickly and it would give us everything we need,” Butt said. “We are looking at doing off-grid solar. That’s a possibility. It’s not cheap either, but it’s probably cheaper than putting in a new cable. Other than that, there really aren’t any other options.”

    If the Coast Guard is unable to repair or replace the cable, and if grants aren’t able to fund a new cable or pay for solar power installation, Butt said “we would just have to walk away from it.”

    Butt said that would mean the end of the nonprofit’s “40+ year steward stewardship of this historic landmark.”
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