Five years ago, George Costa, an avid trout fisherman and state environmental official, surveyed an East Patchogue creek — clogged with duck waste and invasive vegetation — and found, much to his surprise, a small population of native brook trout.
“Trout are like the canary in the coal mine,” said Costa, an activist with the conservation group Trout Unlimited. “They need cold and clean water to survive. It would be a shame if we lose them.”
After lengthy study, the Suffolk Legislature on Wednesday is set to vote on spending $1.7 million to begin cleanup of a polluted remnant of Long Island’s once-thriving duck industry, reclaim the headwaters of the aptly named Mud Creek as a park and help preserve those local brook trout.
A resolution for $1.5 million will remove what’s left of the former Gallo duck farm, started in 1922, which once raised 350,000 ducks annually. Thirty years ago, owners “just locked the door and left,” after costly pollution problems from duck waste, according DeWitt Davies, a county planner and project director.
The ruins include 16 dilapidated and burned-out buildings, old farm machinery, duck pen fencing, pump houses, piping and waste disposal lagoons containing 15,000 cubic yards of nitrogen-laden material. A second legislative measure will spend $194,900 on a new culvert to improve water flow.
Planners say the work on Mud Creek can serve as a model for converting former duck farms into scenic, recreational areas that provide environmental benefits to the local area. At one time nearly 2,100 acres and nearly 20 miles of Suffolk shoreline was used for duck production, which caused numerous adverse environmental impacts on farms and nearby wetlands.
“We know duck sludge can continue to be a pollutant for decades unless it is cleaned up,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “This could easily be a model project in remediation for the legacy of pollution from duck farms.”
Suffolk County owns five former duck farms, totaling 425 acres, and shares ownership with towns of three others that total another 67 acres. Over the years, the county has dredged duck sludge from tributaries of Moriches and Flanders Bays, and turned one former duck farm into the Indian Island county golf course.
The Gallo project, after five years of planning, is the first in the county that aims to restore an abandoned duck farm to its undeveloped state. The former Robinson Duck farm in South Haven has only started preliminary plans.
The immediate work at the Gallo site is to start next year and be completed within three years. It is part of a larger $5.1 million plan to protect Mud Creek’s headwaters that will restore the 45.8 acre farm, which the county acquired for unpaid property taxes, and another 52 acres the county bought for $3.1 million under various open space initiatives. The county is applying for grants to finish the project including a $2.26 million from the state Regional Economic Development Council.
When complete, the Gallo project will create a 2,300-foot stream channel six to 12 feet wide, and remove berms to improve water flow and allow movement of marine species. It also will remove invasive phragmites and restore 6.5 acres of flood plain with 2,500 native trees and shrubs, to create forested wetlands and 14.4 acres of oak forests and meadows.
Brookhaven Town also is spending more than $400,000 for 29 catch basins to help preserve the site. When completed, the park will include 1.3 miles of nature trails, elevated timber boardwalks, interpretive signage, benches and a parking area off Gazzola Avenue.