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Yaphank lake to get fish ladder to help species move upstream

Al and Josephine Curiale live on property that

Al and Josephine Curiale live on property that abuts Lily Lake. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced $1 million to fund construction of a fish ladder on the Carmans River at Lily Lake Dam to help migratory fish move upstream. Aug. 2, 2018.  Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Brook trout and other fish in Suffolk County's Carmans River will be able to do something by next year that they haven't done in more than 200 years: swim upstream to Yaphank.

County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday signed a bill authorizing $1 million in county water quality protection funds to build what's known as a fish ladder at Lily Lake in Yaphank. The construction would help a variety of fish, including alewives, American eels and blueback herring, swim farther up the river.

Fish ladders are collections of stones that slope in a way that allows fish to bypass dams by leaping from one step to the next as they swim to freshwater lakes where they can spawn, said Heidi O'Riordan, a state Department of Environmental Conservation biologist.

The ladder at Lily Lake, also known as Lower Yaphank Lake, will combine with ladders built in recent years at Upper Lake in Yaphank and Hards Lake in Southaven County Park in Yaphank to form a six-mile path for fish to swim from saltwater to freshwater, officials said. That path was disrupted more than two centuries ago by the construction of dams to create lakes for grist mills along the Carmans River.

"The fish have been waiting for a couple of hundred years," Bellone said during a ceremony announcing the funding at the Hawkins House historic site in Yaphank.

Construction of the ladder at Lily Lake is expected to start in February, Bellone said. The $1.2 million project is partly funded by a $200,000 state grant. 

Yaphank residents have lobbied for more than a decade to restore the lake and allow fish to return to their natural habitat. Officials said the return of trout and alewives should create new fishing opportunities for local anglers.

"The long wait is over," Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley) said at the ceremony. "This is a great day for the residents, for the river and for the revitalization of the Lower Lake."

Bellone said saving Lily Lake was crucial for preserving Long Island's ecology.

"We are going to restore this lake to its pristine natural beauty," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Yaphank residents and officials have said the lake is unsuitable for recreational activities such as swimming and boating because of invasive plants such as cabomba and milfoil.

Brookhaven Town plans to drain the lake later this year and scrape sediment from the bottom to remove the weeds.

Chad Trusnovec, vice president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association, displayed a photograph of Lily Lake from decades ago when its water was clean and free of weeds. He said local residents hope the fish ladders help make the lake attractive again.

"This is a big, big step to getting back to that," Trusnovec said. "This is a big, big deal."

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