Resident: If No Action Is Taken, 'There Won't Be A Lake Anymore'

YAPHANK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Residents have been none too happy with a decision by the town of Brookhaven, Long Island, to postpone cleanup of a lake overrun with invasive plants and algae.

As TV 10/55 Long Island Bureau Chief Richard Rose reported Tuesday night, after years of neglect, Lower Lake in Yaphank now looks more like a swamp.

The lake was supposed to be cleaned up this month, but tow officials have put off the project until next summer at the earliest because of environmental concerns.

Lifelong Yaphank resident Sean McGovern remembers when the lake was clean.

“My family would canoe all the way down this river,” he said.

McGovern is a biology teacher who has been taking samples from the weed-infested lower lake to show his students what can happen to a once-healthy body of water.

“The weeds are so thick, you can almost walk on it,” McGovern said. “It’s never been this bad before, but every year, it seems to get a little bit worse.”

Boaters and swimmers have disappeared from the lake, which is now coated with algae and with invasive water plants. But dredging machines that were to be used in a $4 million cleanup this month now sit idle.

Because the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said cleanup of the lake farther upstream is stirring up potential contaminants from the lake bottom.

Long Island Pine Barrens spokesman Dick Amper said the “water plant problem was created by people, and now it can’t be solved by people.”

“There are several theories about how plants got into the lake,” said Councilwoman Connie Kepert (D-Yaphank). “One of them is people emptied their fish tanks; they used to be sold in Suffolk County and New York State as a plant that people would put in their fish tanks.”

Lake managers also blame boaters who fail to clean the bottom of their boats, spreading the invasive plants even further. Now, only swans dare dip their heads in the murky mess.

“My husband used to kayak here, and I used to do dog training. We would bring my Labradors up here and throw bumpers in the water – have them go and retrieve them – but as the weeds got thicker and thicker, it became a safety hazard,” said Johan McConnell of Yaphank.

Neighbor Bob Kessler spent entire summers swimming and fishing in the lake. He said the cleanup cannot be put off much longer.

“Soon, it’s going to be a swamp,” he said. “We’re not going to have anything left here. It won’t be a lake anymore.”

Project engineers are now looking at alternative dredging methods that will not stir up the lake sediment quite as much. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled that potential sediment as a contaminant.

The big question is whether that process will add to the hefty cleanup cost being borne by the cash-strapped Town of Brookhaven.

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