The drain-and-dredge project at Willow Lake in Yaphank went as planned, though the dredging downstream at Lily Lake has been halted for the time being due to concerning sediment buildup.
“We started seeing the turbidity levels go up as the lake got low,” said Anthony Graves, the Town of Brookhaven’s chief environmental analyst. “And we realized that as the lake was turning into a river, the channel was narrowing, and the velocity of the water was picking up and cutting into the sediment and starting to send it downstream.”
Turbidity, a measure of water transparency, can be harmful at high levels to fish. Turbidity levels are recorded each day at three different locations along the river and within the impoundment. Any level recorded over 25 NTUs must be reported to the DEC.
Since Oct. 10 of last year, Graves said that one reading deemed necessary to report. About 90 percent of the readings have been below 10 NTUs.
In that time span, there has been some pushback from environmentalists regarding the dry-dredge methodology that was instated. The pushback includes the call for acquisition of particular permits to dredge the approximately 66,000 cubic yards of sediment.
A State Environmental Quality Review Act process decided a Negative Declaration for the instated methodology, meaning that an environmental impact statement is not necessary. The grounds for the Negative Declaration cited environmental restoration for its reasoning on a nondevelopment parcel.
Kevin McAllister, biologist and founder of Defend H2O, spoke before the Brookhaven town council on Feb. 14, citing the town failed to comply with obtaining permits to dredge from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on grounds that it is a significant coastal fish and wildlife area, and from the Central Pine Barrens Commission under Environmental Conservation Law Article 57.
“The SEQRA review was deficient,” McAllister said. “It should have been [deemed a Positive Declaration].”
The Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission is also a relevant agency to the project, as Lily Lake is located within the core of the Pine Barrens. The commission, however, cited the project was deemed as nondevelopment and is not subject to review under the commission’s jurisdiction.
“Whether or not an environmental impact statement is required is a determination that would be made by others,” said John Pavacic, the commission’s executive director. “But in this particular case with regard to the commission’s jurisdiction on this matter, the commission determined that it is nondevelopment and therefore not subject to commission review.”
Some environmentalists were concerned with the definition of “development” in Article 57.
“This is land use — it just happens to be underwater,” said Mike Madigan of the environmental group Open Space Council.
Regarding the acquisition of a 404 dredge-and-fill permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Graves said that a permit of such nature is only relevant to areas involving navigable waters.
According to a Defend H20 press release, also noteworthy is the effect on the brook trout population during spawning season, considering excessive turbidity levels.
“The Carmans River is at the southern end of the native range of coastal brook trout,” said Doug Swesty of the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition. “It’s New York’s last best hope of restoring an anadromous brook trout fishery. And the only way to do that is to remove the dams — the barriers.
The Lily Lake Advisory Panel, led by Graves, held its first meeting Feb. 21, which was a closed meeting. The panel discussed the instated methodology of dry dredging and other things relevant to the project.
“They really just want to do this, and we think it’s a very bad idea to do it quite the way they want to do it, which is completely clean out the entire lake of what was an estuary,” commented Madigan for the Open Space Council. Madigan was present on the panel, which is made up of environmentalists, civic leaders, and other relevant stakeholders. The next meeting is not scheduled but is estimated to take place at the end of March.