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The lighthouse in Peggys Cove, N.S., has been declared surplus by the federal government. ((CBC))

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has declared 976 lighthouses across Canada surplus property, raising fears about the future of some of the country's most iconic landmarks.

The Peggys Cove lighthouse in Peggys Cove, N.S., and the Cape Spear lighthouse near St. John's, N.L., are among the active lighthouses named on a list posted on the DFO website.

The surplus lighthouses are those that Canadian Coast Guard officials determined "could be replaced with simpler structures whose operation and maintenance would be more cost-effective," according to the DFO website.

The department also said some of the former lighthouses are no longer part of Canada's navigation system.

"I'm very, very disappointed," said Barry MacDonald, president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society.

"Although the aid to navigation that's on that location is not declared surplus, what they're coming at here is the fact that they can maintain a steel tower on that site with a solar light a whole lot cheaper than they can maintain a heritage structure."

The 488 active lighthouses and 488 inactive lighthouses were declared surplus on May 29, when the new Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act came into force.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act

It is now up to individuals, municipalities and community-based non-profit groups to try to take over the surplus lighthouses. Under the act, they can seek heritage designations for the lighthouses through a petition to Parks Canada.

But the designation won't be granted without a written commitment from someone willing to own the lighthouse.

MacDonald said that means communities hoping to save larger lighthouses will be saddled with any associated maintenance costs.

"We've been as realistic as possible in our negotiations with DFO to say, 'Look, we just want a couple of these icons in each province protected,'" he said.

"By declaring all the lights in Canada surplus — with the exception of the staffed lighthouses on both coasts — they've in fact pretty much absolved themselves of any kind of responsibility."

MacDonald said a few years ago, the coast guard painted the Sambro Island lighthouse — the oldest working lighthouse in North America.

He estimates that job cost between $20,000 and $50,000.

"Those kinds of maintenance dollars are just out of the range," said MacDonald. "I can't think of any way that a community group could raise that kind of money."

The act will serve smaller lighthouses well, MacDonald said, because there are many communities who are willing and able to take them over.

Futures questioned

Anyone interested in taking over a lighthouse and having it declared a heritage property has two years to submit a petition.

Any surplus lighthouses that don't receive a designation will remain in the DFO's real estate holdings, according to the website.

There is no mention of whether the department will continue to be responsible for the maintenance of any unclaimed lighthouses.

"It puts the future of these iconic structures across the country in jeopardy. There's a big question mark now," said MacDonald.

DFO did not respond to requests for an interview and directed inquires to their website.