A lake without water really isn't much of a lake.
That's what North Babylon and West Islip residents told Suffolk County officials two years ago when the lake they live near dried up completely.
Now the county is spending $25,000 on a feasibility study to determine whether a pump station can keep the "lake" in Deer Lake. But under state law, the use of public money requires that private property have public access points, an issue that has raised concerns among some residents.
The lake -- which is made up of two water bodies sometimes called Guggenheim Lakes but referred to by residents and officials as simply Deer Lake -- has dried up several times over the years.
Tony Pelle, 57, of North Babylon said he was out on the lake fishing in July 2013. Less than two months later, fish were left gasping for air in muddy puddles, birds pecking at the easy prey. For two months, the smell of dead fish permeated the air, he said.
As mysteriously as the lake drained, it eventually filled up again. But in just the past week, residents said, levels have dropped more than a foot. "This is as low as I've seen it since I've lived here," said Pelle, who bought his house in 2009 for a water view that he said was "absolutely the draw."
The picturesque panorama isn't all that residents would lose, they said. Many fear that a dried-up lake will lower their property values and those of neighboring homes.
"Having a lake in your area helps everybody, even if your house is not on the lake," said Pelle's wife, Marla, who helped spearhead a petition to address the lake's depletion.
The proposed pump station would help regulate the water flow. It would be located upstream at the corner of Bay Shore and Weeks roads, on the site of a county sump. The state Department of Environmental Conservation would have to approve the pump. Officials at that agency said that they are willing to consider it.
Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) obtained the feasibility study funds and, after meeting with residents, proposed the public access be limited to a 50-foot by 5-foot-wide fishing pier with a 10-foot by 10-foot platform. There would be limited fishing hours, he said, and no swimming or boat launches allowed. The pier would be built at the southern end of the lake, on protected wetland property.
A survey sent out by the Parkdale Civic Association showed that a majority of the lake's 79 residents want the pump station. However, some said they have concerns about the impact of public access.
Lynda Alfred, 45, said that last year she and her husband spent $8,000 to build a 6-foot fence to protect their privacy from gawkers who would go near -- or sometimes onto -- their property to launch boats or hang out. Alfred said she fears a fishing pier will just invite more interlopers. "Our concern is, who is going to police that?" she said.
D'Amaro said the county will police the area and that "nothing of that sort will be left to the residents."
D'Amaro has secured another $250,000 in the 2016 capital budget for construction of the pump station and pier, as well as land acquisition. He said he expects the feasibility study to last through the end of the year, with the results coming back to residents in early 2016.