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East Setauket Pond Park

East Setauket Pond Park. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

By Mallie Jane Kim

East Setauket Pond Park is due for a facelift next year, and Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) is assembling a diverse set of voices to help make plans for the landmark property, which sits next to Se-Port Deli on Route 25A.

Kornreich said the people he invited to join the committee include descendants of the Setalcott Nation and parents of young children — in addition to residents who are often involved in Three Village area community service, leadership and decision-making.

The park sits on a likely landing point of the first European settlers of Brookhaven, an event commemorated by a 1955 mural housed in Town Hall. The mural depicts a busy Setalcott village with European ships approaching in the distance, and some believe the perspective of the painting is East Setauket Pond Park.

Kornreich said he wants to be sure he is considering the history as well as the future of the property.

“When you’re doing something as important as creating a park that’s going to be there for the next 100 years, I think we have to be thoughtful and include some other voices that maybe we don’t always listen to,” Kornreich explained of his effort to broaden his advisory group to include more than the usual suspects. “A diverse set of voices generally yields better decision-making.”

Some of those usual suspects include members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, whose advocacy started the process of the park rehabilitation in the first place. The tidal pond water drains into the harbor itself, and when the task force formed in 2014, the pond was filled with sand, sediment and pollutants from Route 25A road runoff. 

Task force co-founder George Hoffman remembers working to bring the park onto Brookhaven’s radar. The town’s parks department began mowing and clearing some invasive plants, he explained, as the task force worked with former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to secure a $1 million clean water grant in 2016. After various delays, the money went toward dredging the pond in 2022 and building an appropriate drainage system for the highway in 2023.

Hoffman said he understands the need to include a variety of voices in developing the park, but he acknowledges it is hard to adjust after advocating for it for so long. “We’ve always seen ourselves as unofficial stewards of Setauket Pond Park,” he said. “It’s been our baby, but now it’s kind of everyone’s baby.”

He added that he hopes the environment will remain an important aspect of any development. “The pond is tied into water quality as the headwaters of the harbor,” he said. “It’s important we don’t do anything to jeopardize that.”

Hoffman and Kornreich both said they hope a redeveloped park will serve as an anchor for revitalization of downtown East Setauket as well as provide an economic boost to the area, giving residents a clear view of the harbor and providing an enjoyable outdoor space near local businesses.

One woman tapped for the new committee, East Setauket resident Stephanie Alwais, said she is excited to be a part of the process. In her five years on the board of North Shore Montessori School in Stony Brook, she has had a lot of exposure to the needs and desires of area families with young children. 

“North Shore is such an embedded school within the community, and the park is also right in the center of the community,” Alwais said. “As a mom in Setauket, I’d love for the park to be a place where families can go.”

Kornreich said his advisory committee will work with the parks department to figure out the best use of the land, which will expand to include the parcel that currently houses Setauket Automotive, next door to the current park. Brookhaven purchased that land late in 2022 with plans to tear down the auto-shop building once the business-owner tenant’s lease expires at the end of July 2025. 

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Work by East Setauket Pond Park is expected to be completed by the end of June, according to Brookhaven’s Highway Department.. Photo by Emma Gutmann

By Emma Gutmann

Construction on East Setauket Pond Park has spilled out onto Route 25A and into the town parking lot beside Se-Port Delicatessen.

On weekday mornings and afternoons, one lane at the intersection of Main Street and Gnarled Hollow Road is coned off to accommodate the first phase in the pond park project. 

The work has its roots in the Setauket Harbor Task Force, an environmental not-for-profit organization founded by George Hoffman and Laurie Vetere in 2014. The group’s board shared concern over the contaminated appearance of Setauket Harbor and gathered any information they could find on the historical body of water.

Since other governmental entities handled the greater Port Jefferson Harbor complex, tackled nonenvironmental issues and often worked independently, the task force narrowed its focus on environmental work to ensure Setauket Harbor received the attention it needed.

As a result, former New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million NYS grant for the Town of Brookhaven “to fund projects aimed to improve water quality in Setauket Harbor and the surrounding watershed,” according to a town press release in 2016. Additional funds have since been acquired with the help of town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook). 

In a phone interview, Hoffman said the two town elected officials are very supportive of the task force and have been instrumental in advancing the pond park project. “Whatever we ask for, they find a way to help us,” he said.

Kornreich reported by email that the following components were recently installed: both water quality units, pipe connections to the units and culvert crossing under the road, the outfall that empties into the pond and three catch basins on Route 25A. Suffolk County Water Authority completed the water main offset necessary to the project’s new installations a month ago.

In an email, town Highway Department PR assistant, Kristen D’Andrea, said she expected an early conclusion to this stage of the work. “The water quality improvement project at East Setauket Pond Park is about 90 percent complete,” she said. “Crews hope to finish by the end of June.” 

In addition to Romaine and Kornreich, Hoffman also credited the project’s success to the support of town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R).

The town’s plans do not stop at clean water conducive to clamming. With each hurdle overcome, the park is a step closer to eventually becoming a centerpiece of the downtown area. 

 As for the work directly in the road, Kornreich said the team still needs to install the last catch basin and restore the sidewalk and road. Conversations with the state Department of Transportation are ongoing to coordinate night work and lane closures. The construction will pause from Friday, May 26, through Monday, May 29, for Memorial Day weekend and the local parade.

In response to drivers inconvenienced by the temporary traffic flow, Hoffman said, “Keep the faith. You’re going to see great improvement in the Setauket Harbor in terms of water quality and it will also help us move forward on a beautiful park that could be there in the next couple of years. If clamming comes back, we’ll have accomplished what we set out to do.”

Workers install a water quality unit at East Setauket Pond Park. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Residents passing by East Setauket Pond Park have noticed the area has been fenced off recently.

At the March Three Village Civic Association meeting, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) updated members on the work being done on the pond. Two water quality units are being installed to capture road runoff, such as sediment and floatables, from Route 25A and interconnected town roads before the debris goes into Setauket Harbor.

In an email, Veronica King, Brookhaven’s stormwater manager, said the project is expected to take approximately two months.

The current and past work at the park has been a result of a $1 million clean water grant for the Town of Brookhaven that former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured in 2016.

George Hoffman, one of the founders of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said in a phone interview that he was pleased that the units would be finally installed.

“It’s critical to improving water quality in Setauket Harbor,” he said. “The harbor is struggling. We haven’t been able to clam there for 22 years. It’s unsafe to take clams from that harbor, and that’s based on bacteria in the area and a lot of the bacteria comes in through the stormwater.”

He added the filtering of road runoff would also lessen how often the pond has to be dredged.

At the civic meeting, Kornreich also told the attendees that the town recently purchased the property where East Setauket Automotive stands today with the hopes of building a larger park in the future. In a phone interview, Kornreich said the auto and truck repair shop will remain until 2025, and he said the town plans to be sensitive to the needs of businesses surrounding the park. 

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Recently, trucks could be seen dredging the pond at East Setauket Pond Park. Photo from George Hoffman

While delays due to COVID-19 stalled plans to improve East Setauket Pond Park, during the last few weeks residents have witnessed work is underway near and in the pond on Route 25A. 

The work is a result of a $1 million clean water grant for the Town of Brookhaven that former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured in 2016. The funds for the water quality improvement project for the pond, which lies on the western side of Se-Port Delicatessen, were tied up by the state during the pandemic.

In addition to the wait, due to rising material costs, the Town of Brookhaven, which was originally slated to add $500,000 to the project, contributed an additional $120,000, for a grand total of $620,000, according to the town’s Highway Department.

The project has included the dredging of the pond for sediment and the repair of the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park. The stormwater conveying system has been redesigned and is being installed.

The new system will catch contaminated sediments and floatables before they enter the pond. George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said due to the former water treatment structure being faulty, sediment would build up in the water. Stormwater from Route 25A and Gnarled Hollow Road regularly washes into the pond and travels into Setauket Harbor. Sediment can include sand that’s put down on the roads, pet waste, car oils and items that fall off trucks and cars.

Hoffman said the redesign will prevent the stormwater from being drained directly into the pond. The new system will redirect the drainage into underground catchment basins.

“They’re like big cement tombs, and they’ll collect all the sediment, so the sediment shouldn’t go into the pond anymore, it should go into the catchment basins and then there will be periodic cleaning of the catchment bays,” he said. “We think that that’ll have some marked improvement in terms of water quality.”

In turn, he said there will be less floatables such as plastic bags, and an argument could be made that bacteria will decrease in the harbor.

Hoffman said the task force is grateful for the funds from the state and town. He said they are also grateful for the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department.

Hoffman added with the pruning of invasive trees at the park, one day it will be possible for people to see the harbor from the road.

“We have big plans for that park,” he said. “We really see it as the anchor for the improvement of the downtown area.”

The harbor task force has another hope for the future. After clam digging being illegal in most of the harbor for more than 20 years, the members see the possibility that some areas may see the return of clamming one day.

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A recent photo of the pond that is now filled with sediment from road runoff from stormwater. Photo from George Hoffman

A stalled project in the Three Village community is finally moving forward.

In 2016, former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant for the Town of Brookhaven. The funds were for a water quality improvement at East Setauket Pond Park, which lies on the western side of Se-Port Delicatessen on Route 25A. The town is slated to add $360,000, according to the Highway Superintendent’s office.

According to Laurie Vetere, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, the work that was supposed to begin in 2018 is finally underway. On Sept. 16, the Town of Brookhaven held a pre-bidding meeting on the site for the repair of the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park. Bids are due to the town on Oct. 14.

The project, in addition to the reconstruction of the park’s bulkhead, will also include dredging the pond to remove sediment, removing phragmites and redesigning the stormwater conveying system, which will catch contaminated sediments and floatables before they enter the pond. Stormwater from Route 25A can wash into the pond, while the current water treatment structure is faulty and allows sediment to build up. The stormwater then goes into the harbor. Sediment can include sand that’s put down on the roads, pet waste and items that fall off of trucks and cars.

Bids for other projects will be held at a later date. The restructured stormwater conveying system would enable the sediment to go into a catch basin and then settle, allowing only the water to go into the harbor.

“It will prevent bacteria and other sediment from going into the pond and then into the harbor,” Vetere said.

She added Hurricane Ida exacerbated the problem. The task force’s main objective was “to call attention to the harbor and what needed to be done” after feeling it was being neglected.

“This was one of our first projects,” the co-founder said. “We’re all excited about it and now, five years later, it’s finally coming to fruition.”

Vetere said the goal after sediment and phragmite removal is to add some native planting that won’t obscure the pond. The hope for the future is to add more plants to the park and walkways to make it more accessible.

George Hoffman, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a harbor task force co-founder, agreed that the restoration would improve water quality. He added the work would be “the first step in revitalizing Setauket’s neglected downtown district.”

The harbor and pond is important to the history of Setauket, he said, which once was the commercial center of Setauket. He added Roe Tavern was once just a block from the harbor pond. The tavern, which was relocated to another location in East Setauket, is known for providing George Washington lodging in 1790.

“The original settlers in the mid-17th century landed at Setauket Harbor and founded a settlement that became Setauket,” he said. “The renovation of the pond and park will help us reconnect the pond to the downtown area.”

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Residents can now use a boardwalk from East Setauket Pond Park to the harbor. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Three Village residents have a new way to enjoy and connect with nature.

The Town of Brookhaven recently constructed a 180-foot boardwalk that starts at East Setauket Pond Park, next to Se-Port Delicatessen, and ends with a viewing platform at Setauket Harbor. Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman, co-founders of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the boardwalk complements the group’s vision for the site.

“We always had a plan for the park,” Hoffman said. “We really think it’s a unique park that’s been neglected over the years.”

Vetere called the park its pet project.

“We can see the vision of it becoming a beautiful waterfront park right in the heart of downtown Setauket,” she said.

Hoffman and Vetere said the town plans to add benches to the viewing platform and switch out the current light posts to match the historic fixtures along Route 25A. The town is also currently waiting for a permit from the New York State Department of Conservation to cut down the phragmites that are currently slightly blocking the view at the platform.

The task force co-founders said a couple of months ago the town’s Parks & Recreation Department had a surplus of funds for park improvements around town, and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) were able to secure $75,000 to be used for the Three Village park.

Vetere, said the Three Village Civic Association, of which she is 2nd vice president, is currently forming a committee to be chaired by Herb Mones and Robert Reuter. She said the hope is to further the vision of the park including aspects such as adding plantings, play equipment for children and possibly moving the gazebo that is currently there to another spot in the park.

“The hope is just to make it more useful and get people invested in Setauket Harbor and the beauty of the harbor,” Vetere said.

Cartright said she was happy with the improvements.

“This is an important place in our community, and we want to increase and promote public access and use of the park,” she said. “We received community feedback about improvements that residents wanted to see at this location. Working off of that community input, I was able to secure $75,000 funding for this project that started about two-and-a-half weeks ago and was completed [Oct. 15].”

In addition to the current work being done by the Town of Brookhaven, in 2016 state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant for the town for East Setauket Pond Park. The funds, which became available at the end of 2018, will go toward removing sediment from the retention pond at the park and implementing improvements to mitigate stormwater inputs into the harbor. The grant will also go toward repairing the dock at the Shore Road park along the harbor.

“We look forward to the completion of this project as it fits into the larger picture of preserving and protecting the area,” Cartright said.