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Riverhead school's pond project to become a teaching tool

Students from McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, involved

Students from McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, involved in an environmental studies program work on the Wetland Remediation Program, apply stakes and fishing line around the pond to deter geese from entering the pond. (July 30, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

Emma Squires of Hampton Bays and Claire O'Kane of Orient walked around their school's new pond Wednesday, looking for plants to pull out.

The 17-year-olds from Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead weren't looking for just any plants, but invasive species -- opportunistic seedlings that could grow and choke out the carefully created ecosystem they and other students spent the past few months creating in the soft soil.

As they explained what they were doing, there was a bang-bang-bang of a heavy metal tube pounding wooden stakes behind them. Nathan Sandler, 15, of Bridgehampton, was knocking stake after stake into the ground, making a second line of protection against the geese that had previously eaten some of the carefully selected new plants.

He and other volunteers will put fishing line on the stakes and attach bright day-glow plastic, which has so far kept the geese away, if enough of it is put in place.

"They [the geese] snake around the first line," explained Debbie Kneidl, the school's director of development.

The pond used to be an overgrown 4-acre swamp. It took the school from 2004 to about 2008 to get all the state environmental permits it needed and a $750,000 state Environmental Facilities Corporation grant to design a remediation project, bring in heavy equipment and dig out the muck to create the pond.

The pond, which now takes in all the rainfall runoff from the 24-acre high school campus, as well as runoff from neighboring properties, has been worked on by scores of student volunteers. In the fall, it will become a teaching tool, as the high school starts a new environmental science program.

The pond plants filter out pollutants from the school and road runoff -- there are fish and eels and turtles in the water too -- and the water eventually works its way into Peconic Bay.

The town gave the school permission to link the pond with some of its road drains, eliminating flooding on Middle Road, according to Highway Superintendent George Woodson. "We like the idea that Mercy came up with . . . it helps drainage. Now there are two places where water can go," he said.

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