By Fred Golofaro
Every time I pass West Brook Pond, once a vibrant warm water fishery where local anglers have been targeting largemouth bass, yellow perch, sunfish and bluegills for generations, I cringe at the site of the dried lake bottom with a trickle of water flowing through its center. Back in June of 2019 when the pond’s dam broke, some local environmentalists seized on the opportunity to make West Brook their own pet project, that being to restore the pond’s waters to a free flowing stream. One state park employee from their environmental department told me during a meeting held at the pond last summer, “It’s being done all over country.” Yes, that’s true, but they are removing dams from large rivers, not a trickle of a stream that will have little impact on the water quality of the Connetquot River and Great South Bay, which the pond’s waters empty into.
An Op-Ed in the Islip Bulletin by James Bertsch (January 9 issue) suggests that the infusion of clean water from small streams like West Brook is the key to restoring Great South Bay’s polluted waters. Really? How about banning the use of non-organic fertilizer along the bay’s South Shore communities, or installing filtration systems to storm drain outflows. How about the impact of the Southwest Sewer District and leaky pipes from the Bergen Point Sewage Plant (which are finally being replaced)? And let’s not forget the effect of the Patchogue Village waste water outflow. Those are the real issues if you want to clean up Great South Bay.
Some of these environmentalists have also raised the issue of allowing the passage of alewives upstream by removing the dam, something that can easily be accomplished with the construction of a fish ladder similar to those that have recently been installed on other Long Island waterways like Peconic and Carmans rivers. This waterway has no connection to the headwaters of the Connetquot River or the waters running through Connetquot River State Park Preserve. The pond, and the one above it on the north side of Sunrise Highway, are fed by a small stream that originates in an underground spring a short distance from the pond to the north. To convert what is now a trickle of water in the lake bed into a clear, free-flowing stream would require a major environmental construction project involving the removal of thousands of yards of mud and detritus, the replanting of trees within the 16 acres surrounding the riverbed, and costly planning and consulting fees. It would also deprive thousands of Long Island residents of what has been a valuable and free recreational area.
Now, more than a year later, the latest word from state Parks is they are continuing to evaluate the situation. In the meantime, environmentalist are hard at work on removing invasive plant species and conducting other research, all directed at an alternate plan other than repairing the dam. So despite many complaints and requests to restore the pond as it has been for over 100 years from local residents and local legislators, it appears the fate of West Pond has already been decided.
James Bertsch refers to going back to the 1860s when Dutch baymen settled in West Sayville and began making a life by harvesting clams from Great South Bay. He suggests that as a free flowing stream it will help restore the once abundant shellfish that they and so many of us who followed, have harvested over the years. A noble intention yes, but not for something that will have little or no effect on the bay’s water quality, and not at the cost of a valuable recreational asset to the fishing community. Any plan other than repairing the dam is unacceptable to those who want to see the pond restored to what it was for the past 100-plus years.
You can contact George Gorman, regional director of Long Island state Parks and tell him that you want the dam rebuilt as soon as is realistically possible, and its warm water fishery restored. You can email him at George.Gorman@parks.ny.gov or call regional headquarters at 631-669-1000 and ask for his office. State Senator Phil Boyle has been very supportive of the restoration of the dam and pond. Let him know you support his efforts by calling 631-665-2311. You can also contact Suffolk County legislator Tom Cilmi at 631-854-0940 and ask him to support restoring the pond.