$3.7M bond OKd to clean up Yaphank lakes

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert, stands at the edge Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert, stands at the edge of the Lower Yaphank Lake holding a piece of cabomba, a nonnative invasive weed that is to be dredged out of this lake and Upper Yaphank Lake. (March 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Chad Trusnovec remembers growing up in Yaphank, happily canoeing in the local lakes and watching crowds of fishing fanatics surface when trout season began.

"When I was a kid, on April 1 when you wake up in the morning, you would see 20 boats on the lakes and many more people waiting on the shore to fish," he said.

But for the past couple of decades, the Upper and Lower Yaphank Lakes -- also known as Lily and Willow lakes -- have been so choked by two invasive plant species that recreation has been nearly impossible in the summer, he said.

"It's been well over 30 years the weeds have been there, and it's been getting worse," said Trusnovec, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association. When trout season starts now, "over the last five years I've seen only two people, and they stay half an hour," he said.

Trusnovec hailed a recent Brookhaven Town resolution to dredge the two lakes of the cabomba and variable-leaf watermilfoil invasive plants and restore the waterways' former glory. On March 12, the town board voted unanimously for Councilwoman Connie Kepert's resolutions to bond $3.7 million to clean up the lakes.

During a recent visit to the waterways, which each stretch about 2,000 to 2,600 feet long, Kepert pointed to what appeared to be a mossy carpet of plants under the water's surface. "When you come in the spring or the summer, it looks like you can walk across the lake, it's so thick," she said of the plants' growth. The plants, sometimes used in fish aquariums as decorations, are believed to come from people emptying out fish tanks into the lakes, Kepert said.

She first proposed dredging the lakes in 2007. "I thought we'd be done with this in a year," Kepert said, laughing. The delay was a result of research and funding issues, as well as coordinating with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, she said.

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DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in an email that the agency recently issued a dredging permit to the Town of Brookhaven for the project "and looks forward to observing the restoration of the ponds and the increased boating access and fishing opportunities that will likely result from this completion of this project."

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment advocacy group, worked with Kepert on the dredging proposal, for what she described as "the largest lake restoration project in the history of Long Island to get rid of invasive plant species. Yaphank is the poster child -- they really are being choked out."

Kepert said town officials plan to issue a request for proposals soon with the intent to dredge between June and October. The plants will be taken to the Brookhaven Rail Terminal to dry out and then be used as cover at the Yaphank landfill.

The dredging project was welcome news to Marty Lang, of Medford, who was fishing at Lily Lake on a recent morning. "It's about time," he said, as he cast a line into the waters. In the summer, "you can't even use lures because it just gets tangled in the weeds."

 

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INVASIVE PLANTS

 

Cabomba: Also known as fanwort, the plant is an aquatic multibranched perennial that can form large colonies underwater.

Variable-leaf watermilfoil: The plant is an aquatic perennial with crimson stems and two types of leaves. The plant's stem sticks out of water about 3 to 6 inches, with clusters of leaves on top.

Source: Texas A&M University Agrilife Extension

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