Old Mill Creek has been an unusual sight lately for those who are used to seeing the narrow Port Jefferson waterway choked with vegetation.
A contractor recently began working on the troubled creek, uprooting invasive trees and plants a few weeks ago and clearing the view to passersby. This week, workers were standing in the stretch of the stream behind Village Hall with an excavator at its bank. They are restoring the eastern half of the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor.
Port Jefferson Village has a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to install rock supports at the creek, replace invasive plants with freshwater species, remove built-up sediment that blocks water flow, install filters to improve water quality and repair a pipe known as a culvert that channels the creek under Barnum Avenue.
That culvert repair will alleviate some flooding issues downtown, because the pipe is largely blocked up and causes problems during high tide and storms when the creek swells.
A goal of the project is to improve water quality in the creek and, indirectly, in the harbor.
Last month the village hired Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. to perform the restoration work and will use a DEC grant to cover three-quarters of the cost.
Old Mill Creek starts near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and goes under Barnum. From there it goes past Village Hall and wraps around Schafer’s restaurant before running under West Broadway and into the harbor.
Over the years, invasive species, flooding and pollution have beaten up the creek. Hazardous chemicals that had been illegally dumped over many years at the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, traveled down-gradient into the creek.
Beyond the current restoration project, the village has further plans for improving and protecting the waterway, including doing similar work on the half of it west of Barnum Avenue and reducing stormwater runoff in its entire 517-acre watershed area.