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More heat than light at Currituck lighthouse

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Here's one for the "oh puhleeeeze" file: Despite a negative opinion from the state Attorney General's Office, Currituck County officials say they are going ahead with plans to fine the new nonprofit owners of a landmark lighthouse $100 per day for failing to follow local zoning rules.

"The ordinance is in place and it is a legal issue," County Commissioner Paul Martin told The Virginian-Pilot. He added that if the fines are not paid, nonprofit leaders could be arrested.

The county lost a bitter competition with the Outer Banks Conservationists last fall for ownership of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse--a key Outer Banks tourist attraction. Despite the interventions of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones on behalf of the county (which included bringing in the Dept. of Homeland Security to investigate) the lighthouse deed was awarded to Manteo-based OBC in October.

Last week, the state Attorney General's office issued an advisory opinion supporting OBC's view that Currituck lacks the legal authority to enforce zoning rules requiring added parking and restrooms at the lighthouse. The opinion notes that those rules went into effect two years after the nonprofit opened the restored lighthouse to the public.

"It is a basic principle of law that changes in ownership have no effect on the right to continue a use that was ongoing at the effective date of the ordinances," writes Lars Nance, special deputy attorney general for the state.

Bolstered by the opinion, OBC is appealing the county's claim that parking and restrooms must be added and a new permit issued for the 129-year-old brick tower. The county had given OBC until May 6 to apply for a permit or face fines.

Meanwhile, on another zoning front, the county approved a request from Blackwater USA, a private company that has been hired by the Pentagon to assist U.S. war efforts in Iraq. Local newspapers report county officials agreed to amend Currituck's development ordinance to allow Blackwater to expand firearms ranges, parachute landing zones and explosives training sites. The company owns 6,000 acres in Currituck and neighboring Camden County.

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