Old Light Tower May Get New Life

Reprinted from the Outer Banks Voice

Put in service in 1967, the Diamond Shoals Light Tower has been a lonely sentinel 12 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. Photo: Coast Guard.

HATTERAS — One of the more unusual deals in the history of Outer Banks real estate closed last week, when a Minnesota businessman signed off with the federal government on the purchase of the Diamond Shoals Light Tower.

Dave Schneider, president & CEO of Zap Water Technology of Richfield, Minn., says he hopes to restore the light tower 13 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras in the Atlantic Ocean to become a research facility for new technologies and available for the public to visit.

“This light station needs to be restored to its original beauty … have you seen what a beauty she was when first opened? … and again be placed into use to do great things again,” Schneider said.

Scheinder’s long-term plan is to open the station to a host of uses, from research and development of new technologies, marine biology and ocean sciences, to product testing for fishing and diving equipment and eco-tourism.

“I guess you could call it a wish for a quasi-environmental/technology center,” Scheinder said.

Zap Water Technology Inc. was the only bidder in a Government Services Administration auction that concluded Aug. 31, placing a $17,200 bid.

According to Zap Technology’s website, the company uses an electrochemical process with salt and water to make an FDA-approved non-toxic sanitizer/cleaner for home and business use.

“The GSA did not allow a site visit, so I had to rely on the Coast Guard Inspection documents from 2010,” Schneider said.

In fact, Schneider has never even visited the Outer Banks. But he plans to come around mid-November to see the Light Tower for the first time.

“I need to inspect, budget and hopefully find some interested technology partners to assist in the restoration,” Schneider said.

The Diamond Shoals Light Tower is an oil drilling platform, known as a “Texas Tower,” on top of four steel legs that was modified to be used as a lighthouse.

The platform consists of two floors, with a living area of about 5,000 square feet that includes five bedrooms, a kitchen, office, storage area, recreation area and toilet facilities.

Dave Schneider

The auction listing said the platform in its current condition cannot support a helicopter landing, and the ladder from the ocean surface to the light tower has been destroyed.

The inspection report by the Coast Guard estimates repairs to the tower would cost at least $2.3 million.

The light tower was built in Louisiana and brought by barge to Diamond Shoals in 1966. Before that  light ships had marked the shoals for about 100 years.

“This structure is an iconic part of North Carolina’s and the Atlantic’s history,” Schneider said. “The light station is a marvel to engineering, and was critical to the safety of shipping and ocean travels when it was in service.

“There are over 1,000 ship wrecks in that area,” Schneider said. “Think how many more there could have been if not for this light station and the light ships that preceded it?”

But the 56-year-old single father of two admits that progress will be slow on restoring the Light Tower.

“I am hoping there are many more dreamers like me, that want to see a great facility like this to be used for a better cause,” said Schneinder.

The rec room of the old light tower,

The tower’s platform has deteriorated. Photos: GSA.

“I will need to organize to get the basic work that needs to be done: sanding, welding, hammering, washing, installing, painting and polishing. So I’m hoping I can find some crazies like me to volunteer to do some of the grunt work with me,” Schneider said.

It’s not the first time someone has taken on the task of restoring a light tower in the waters off North Carolina. Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower, off the tip of Cape Fear on the southeast coast, was purchased in 2009 and has been turned into a bed and breakfast that is now accepting reservations.

“Obviously my company, which is introducing some new green technologies to the marketplace, will have a big place here. Since the basic elements of the technology are water, salt and electricity, it fits well,” said Schneider.

“I think that everyone should have access to the facility. This is a part of this area’s history,” Schneider said. “I am sure there are many, many people from the Outer Banks that have always wondered about the station. Hopefully I will be able to give them a chance to see it.

“I am hoping when I can get it more ‘civil,’ that we can maybe have a ‘deck party’ and get to meet the neighbors,” Schneider said.

Scheinder is realistic about the environment the tower is in and the long road he faces in bringing it back to life.

“This is a very dangerous and unpredictable location … access is very difficult … Remember it is the Graveyard of the Atlantic!” Schneider said.

“So along with learning the ‘big water,’ I need to learn the basics of all the stuff to make this place happen: wind turbines, solar power, desalination,” Schneider said. “And I have to brush up on some old skills like welding, building, plumbing.

“I’m sure you’re getting two schools of thought (around there). Either this is the greatest thing in the world, or it’s the craziest thing in the world.”

About the Author

Sam Walker

Sam Walker is the news director of Max Radio of the Carolinas and a staff writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."