An environmental restoration project at Scudder's Pond in Sea Cliff is designed to tame what had been the biggest source of bacterial pollution runoff into Hempstead Harbor.
The $2.6 million project began in November and is scheduled for completion by June. The goal, through dredging and other work, is to prevent silt from filling the 3-acre pond. The buildup prevents the pond from serving as a natural filter for runoff into the harbor.
"When we formed the protection committee in 1995, the first thing we did was do a study about what we needed to do to improve the water quality in the harbor," said Eric Swenson, the committee's executive director. "And that study said the worst watershed was Scudder's Pond."
The project is being managed for the Village of Sea Cliff by the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, a coalition of local villages, the towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, the City of Glen Cove and Nassau County.
The pond was last dredged around 1980. Since then, it had mostly filled in with sediment washing down from neighboring hills onto roadways, into storm drains and into the pond.
"So it was no longer serving as a natural bio-filter so any stormwater that came in pretty much went right out into the harbor," Swenson said.
The biggest component of the project, which is being funded by state and Nassau County grants, was dredging 8,500 cubic yards of silt from the waterway to bring it back to its historic maximum depth of three feet.
"We couldn't have afforded this on our own," said Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy.
Crews completed the dredging two weeks ago.
Last week, a large concrete box with filters inside -- called a hydrodynamic separator -- was buried at the head of the stream that feeds into the pond to catch silt. A village vacuum truck will periodically suck out the silt.
The work included reconfiguring the course of the stream with smoother curves to limit erosion of the banks that would exacerbate silt flowing into the pond.
Additionally, a concrete weir, or dam, has replaced a deteriorating wire cage filled with rocks at a small pond upstream of the main pond to also control runoff.
Before the work began, the pond was surrounded by invasive phragmites plants that walled it off from view. Those have all been removed and will be replaced with native vegetation that should discourage nonnative Canada geese from nesting and polluting the pond with their feces.
When the project is completed, Swenson said, the runoff pollution may not be totally eliminated but "hopefully it will be much better."
Beyond cleaning up the pond, Kennedy and Swenson have talked about stocking it with hatchery fish to encourage the return of fishing to the pond, which is now used mostly for ice skating in the winter.
They said they also hope the project will improve the water quality enough that shellfishing off adjacent Tappan Beach, banned for 45 years, will eventually be allowed again by the state.