Several weeks backs we addressed the need for repairing the dam at West Brook Pond, located in Oakdale/Great River and within the boundaries of Bayard Cutting Arboretum, which is maintained by Long Island State Parks. Initially, State Parks reported they expected it to be repaired in a matter of weeks. Since then, there has been a push from several environmental organizations and environmentalists to have the lake revert back to a free-flowing stream as it was over 100 years ago. This has caused State Parks to reconsider their options and the future of the project is now mired in a nonsensical maze of red tape and legal bull crap. Engineers, private consultants, environmental studies, bids, permits, DOT, DEC. Are you kidding me? After examining the tracks that support the dam’s boards, each was bent at one end, it would seem to be a pretty simple process to either straighten or replace them. Then I was told that the main support beam that sits between the two is “compromised.” It sure looked like you could still reinstall boards into the existing track, and even though they might not align perfectly, they would create enough of a barrier to refill the pond. Worst case scenario, a private contractor I spoke to who does a lot of state and county work, said that even if replacing the guides on each side of the dam and the steel center beam was required, it might cost thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, when the subject of cost came up at the meeting, we were told it would cost roughly five million dollars to replace the dam, but if we allow it to be a free flowing stream it would probably cost only two to three million. It was starting to sound like Connetquot River State Park’s hatchery being shut down due to IPN disease all over again. A waste of taxpayer’s dollars and a project that took years to complete. Instead of allowing the park and hatchery to continue functioning, DEC’s Region One head of freshwater fisheries decided to clear the river and hatchery of 80,000 trout and make the hatchery and river IPN free. At tremendous expense, a considerable loss of state park revenue and the elimination of what was considered a world class trout fishery, the park was shut down for six years. I was told after the fact, that state parks could have told DEC to take a hike and kept use of the trout from the hatchery to within the park’s waters.
At a recent meeting at the pond, three of us who spoke in favor of repairing the dam, Richard Remmer from Friends of Connetquot, Ginny Fields, former state assemblywoman and Suffolk County legislator, and myself shared our longtime relationship with the pond, relationships that extended back to our childhood days. Those who expressed an interest in having the dam removed have little or no connection to this body of water. One of the attendees noted that taking down dams and creating free flowing rivers is being done all over the country and that is the direction environmentalist are going. Quite frankly I don’t give a damn what is going on around the rest of the country and if that’s the overall theme, go find a real dam and a bigger river somewhere else.
It was also “suggested” that it would be nice if brook trout and alewives were able to move upstream if the dam was removed. Where are they going? First of all, 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. We were also informed that either project, rebuilding the dam or removing it, would take years to complete while depriving thousands of Long Island residents of what has been a valuable and free recreational area. In its current state, the pond is also a safety hazard due to the exposed soft, deep mud bottom.
Restoring the pond to its original state by repairing the dam will restore its effectiveness as a bio-swale that helps contain and breakdown toxic materials that would otherwise flow into the tidal section of the Connetquot River from Sunrise Highway. The pond has also provided important habitat for many amphibians, reptiles and migratory birds, and was home to one of the more vibrant warm water fisheries on Long Island, one of very few in this area, that included largemouth bass, yellow perch and sunfish. Again, at the meeting, it was “suggested” that the fish could be replaced once it became a free flowing stream. Sorry, but that is not suitable habitat for largemouth bass, perch and sunfish, and we don’t need another trout water. Oh, it was also “suggested” that they could create oxbow lakes/ponds along the length of the stream as largemouth habitat. Oh really – oxbow lakes like Lake Chicot (20 miles long) and Reelfoot (15,000 acres) in Tennessee on the Mississippi River are oxbow lakes with outstanding warm water fisheries. Comparing it to 16 acre West Brook Pond is a joke.
It is imperative that this important ecological and recreational body of water be restored to its most recent state by repairing the dam at minimal cost to taxpayers as soon as possible. Funding for restocking the pond would come from a state park fund dedicated to improving recreational fishing opportunities within the Long Island State Park system. It is funded by entry fees from fishing tournaments sponsored by State Parks and The Fisherman Magazine. If access to the pond’s waters from the tidal Connetquot for alewives and trout is a concern, construction of a fish ladder would serve that purpose. Allowing alewives access to the pond would also result in an additional food source for the pond’s largemouth bass population.
This has been an important fishing area for freshwater anglers from throughout western Suffolk County for many years and it should remain that way. Please take a few minutes of your time and contact George Gorman, regional director of Long Island state Parks and tell him that you want the dam repaired 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 to its original state.