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Brookhaven commits to restoring Lower Lake to former beauty

Clockwise from front, Chad Trusnovec, Linda Petersen, Josephine

Clockwise from front, Chad Trusnovec, Linda Petersen, Josephine Curiale, Al Curiale and John Stehle stand at the edge of Lower Lake in Yaphank, an old mill pond that has become choked with tree stumps and invasive plants, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Chad Trusnovec grew up in a house on Lower Lake in Yaphank when its Caribbean-blue waters attracted boaters, swimmers and fishing enthusiasts.

“It kind of really was like a campsite,” Trusnovec, 51, a retired New York Fire Department lieutenant, said last week.

Those days are long gone.

Now, he said, the 250-year-old former mill pond is so choked with invasive plants that boating and swimming there are virtually impossible.

“You can’t fish,” said Trusnovec, who still lives in a house overlooking the lake. “The dogs can’t swim. The dogs are going to drown in the weeds.”

He and other Yaphank residents are hopeful that will soon change.

The Brookhaven Town Board last Thursday approved a capital budget plan that sets aside $4.5 million to dredge the lake next spring. Officials plan to remove invasive weeds such as cabomba and variable leaf watermilfoil.

Councilman Michael Loguercio, who represents Yaphank, said dredging is expected to begin in April and last into June. The actual work is being done by Brookhaven Town crews.

“We’re going to restore it back to the way it was, and those older folks who grew up on the lake will have it back to the way it was when they were younger,” Loguercio said.

Weeds slowly have taken over the lake in recent decades. Vegetation could be seen last week covering most of the lake from shoreline to shoreline. Yaphank civic leaders said the hamlet lost its character as the lake declined.

“There’s no recreational use here now whatsoever,” John Stehle, 47, said.

“You used to be able to ice skate,” Josephine Curiale, 68, said, adding these days the lake never freezes over in winter.

“We bought waterfront property,” she said. “It’s now swamp-front property.”

Officials planned to dredge Lower Lake three years ago but the project was postponed when a similar plan to dredge nearby Upper Lake was initially unsuccessful. That effort stirred up turbidity, or cloudy water from silt, in Upper Lake that caused officials to reconsider dredging Lower Lake.

“We were all concerned,” said Linda Petersen, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association. “Would it ever happen?”

Since then, Upper Lake dredging has been “substantially completed” and the lake is being monitored for new invasive plant blooms, Brookhaven Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner said.

Bob Kessler, president of the Yaphank Historical Society, said some weeds have returned to Upper Lake, but overall the lake “looks like it was when I was a kid” and boaters have returned.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

Miner said dams will be opened to partially drain Lower Lake. Heavy equipment will be used to remove “soft sediment” where plants took root.

“Once you drain the plants, the majority of them will die,” Miner said. “They’re embedded in the soft sediment. They don’t seem to be embedded in the hard bottom.”

Petersen said the dredging plan has restored hope for Lower Lake’s future.

“I think all of us would be thrilled if it returned to what it used to be,” she said. “It used to glisten.”

A brief history of Yaphank

1739: Hamlet is founded as part of the division of Brookhaven Town lands. Community originally was known as Millville for the grist mills on man-made Upper Lake.

1762: Saw mill built on Lower Lake. Numerous mills would be operated on both lakes through the 19th century.

1844: Hamlet name changed to Yaphank when Long Island Rail Road opens a stop there. The name is based on a Native American word, Yamphanke, that means “bank of the river.”

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