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Light display on Yaphank lake moved to shore after complaint

Walter Stroud of Yaphank with his 20-foot patriotic

Walter Stroud of Yaphank with his 20-foot patriotic display he had floated on Lower Lake in Yaphank. Credit: Carl MacGowan

A Yaphank man’s star-spangled floating light display set off a fiery Fourth of July debate over whether it’s a patriotic tribute to America — or, in the view of a civic group, an “electrified graffiti assault.”

Yaphank resident Walter Stroud built the 20-foot-high electrical light array — including red, white and blue stars and a green Statue of Liberty — and placed it on a homemade float on Yaphank’s Lower Lake shortly before Memorial Day, intending to leave it up through July Fourth.

A local civic group, concerned the sign might be a safety hazard, called it “patriotic stupidity” and demanded it be removed.

The dispute was resolved last week when Brookhaven Town officials asked Stroud, 43, to remove the sign from the lake.

On Thursday, Stroud, who works for Brookhaven as a heavy-equipment operator, erected it on his family’s property, which overlooks the lake.

“I wasn’t going to mess with the town,” Stroud said. “I work for them.”

Stroud had mounted his display on the lake on a float anchored about 200 feet off shore, powering the lights with an extension cord that ran from his property to the float.

The display had been there about three weeks when the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, a consortium of local civic groups, sent a June 19 email to members calling the display “patriotic stupidity” and an “electrified graffiti assault.”

MaryAnn Johnston, the group’s president, said she worried that a kayaker could accidentally run into it.

“They didn’t have any right to have a sign in the middle of the lake,” Johnston said. “It was a dangerous condition.”

Local environmentalists also expressed concern about the sign floating on the lake.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio said safety concerns, which he declined to specify, prompted town officials to ask Stroud to remove the sign from the lake.

Last Thursday, he said, Stroud and town officials agreed to compromise and allow Stroud to move the sign to his property.

Loguercio said Stroud received no preferential treatment as a town employee, adding officials told Stroud to move his sign.

Lower Lake, also known as Lily Lake, is protected by the town’s Carmans River conservation law. The lake also is in the state-protected pine barrens.

State officials said they declined to take action against Stroud because Brookhaven officials resolved the dispute. Johnston said she did not object to the new location.

“It’s OK being on somebody’s personal property,” she said Friday, after Stroud moved the display. “It just has no business being on the lake.”

In its new location, the sign is clearly visible from nearby Yaphank Avenue — just as it had been when it was on the water.

Stroud said he began building floating displays as a lark in December, starting with lights in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Since then, he’s made a Valentine’s Day heart, a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock and an Easter Bunny. None of those drew complaints, he said.

“I wasn’t aware that there were any groups against it, because I had done it for all these months,” Stroud said.

Stroud said he plans to make more holiday displays in the future — but wouldn’t give specifics, preferring, he said, to keep those plans secret.

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