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Stormwater

The pond near Se-Port Delicatessen, in a photo from last year, will benefit from a $1 million state grant. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Setauket Harbor and its surrounding area will be a bit cleaner due to a grant secured by a state senator.

“Long Islanders are fortunate to have access to natural resources like the Setauket Harbor and we must continually fight to preserve them.”

— Sen. John Flanagan

Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant from the state for the Town of Brookhaven in 2016 to be used to improve water quality in Setauket Harbor, which will also help clean out the pond slightly west of Se-Port Delicatessen on Route 25A and fix the dock on Shore Road. While the grant was secured two years ago, the contract period began Oct. 1.

“Long Islanders are fortunate to have access to natural resources like the Setauket Harbor and we must continually fight to preserve them,” Flanagan said in a statement. “That is why projects like this are so important, and it is my pleasure to work with the Setauket Harbor Task Force as well as the Town of Brookhaven to ensure that this beautiful natural resource is protected.  These fragile ecosystems are so critical to every facet of life for the people who live, work and play in our region, and it is imperative that we continually join together to make sure they are available to future generations of Long Islanders.”

Veronica King, the town’s stormwater manager, explained how the money would be put to use.

“The project has three distinct components — repair the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park, remove sediment from the retention pond at [East] Setauket Pond Park, and implement stormwater improvements to mitigate stormwater inputs into the harbor,” she said.

King said the work will take approximately three years to complete and a professional engineering firm will be hired to assist with design, permitting and construction.

“If we don’t fix the pond, we’re just kind of spitting into the wind in terms of all the other stuff we do.”

— George Hoffman

Members of Setauket Harbor Task Force, an organization created with the goal to improve water quality in the harbor, have been consulting with the town about the project, according to task force co-founder George Hoffman.

He said the largest source of pathogens in the harbor are most likely from stormwater from the pond.

“If we don’t fix the pond, we’re just kind of spitting into the wind in terms of all the other stuff we do,” he said.

Hoffman said the pond near the delicatessen serves as an inlet to Setauket Harbor, and stormwater from Route 25A — from around the fire station northeast to the water — washes into it. Hoffman said the pond’s old, faulty water treatment structure is allowing sediment to build up and currently stormwater is going straight into the harbor. He said sediment can include sand that’s been put down on the roads in the winter, items that fall off trucks and cars and pet waste.

“The town has a strong commitment to protecting our natural environment.”

— Veronica King

Hoffman said the goal is to dredge the pond and remove 10 feet of sediment. He said the reconstruction of the stormwater inputs would enable the sediment to go into a catch basin that’s specifically designed to capture it. The sediment will settle and then only water would go into the harbor.

King said the town will contribute $500,000 worth of capital funds, bringing the total allocation to the project to $1.5 million.

“The town has a strong commitment to protecting our natural environment,” she said. “It makes it so much easier when we have the community’s support for projects such as the Setauket Harbor project.”

The town will also need to get approval from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation before removing the sediment, which is standard DEC procedure as at times it may contain toxins. King said it shouldn’t be a problem as the town recently did a grain size analysis and found a high percentage of coarse sand material, and she doesn’t expect any surprises as far as chemical compounds.

Hoffman said he looks forward to the improvements as many people attending the Route 25A Visioning meetings in 2017 pointed to the area around the harbor as having potential.

“We see it as the first phase,” he said. “I think we have some plans to make it the centerpiece of downtown East Setauket.”

Port Jeff’s green roof at the high school provides environmental and educational benefits. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A facilities administrator in the Port Jefferson School District is doing his part to reduce the district’s impact on the quality of the Long Island Sound’s water.

Finding innovative ways to improve and protect Long Island’s water is a priority for state and county governments, environmental groups, businesses dependent on marine life and concerned residents. Last year, Fred Koelbel, Port Jeff’s facilities administrator, was able to secure a grant funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund as a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Projects program.

The grant paid for the district to install a bed of vegetation on a 3,400 square foot portion of the high school’s roof to serve as a basin to catch and treat stormwater prior to discharging it into the village’s stormwater system, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the DEC.

“It rains on this, the water filters through and is held in the growing medium,” Koelbel explained while looking over the dual-purposed roof, which will be used for middle school science lessons beginning in the spring in addition to its environmental benefits. “It’s a drop in a bucket, but it’s meant to be a demonstration project. It demonstrates to the kids what the potential is; it demonstrates to the community what the potential is if you did this on a larger scale.”

Koelbel said he frequently monitors grants made available by New York State, and after being denied for this particular project once, the district was approved to receive the funding in 2016. The total cost of the project was about $275,000, though the grant covered all but about $68,000. Koelbel added that the area of the building was in need of a new roof anyway, and it would have cost the district more than $68,000 to install a conventional roof.

“It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

— Fred Koelbel

“It was a win-win because it gave us all of the benefits of the green roof, plus saved us money on the installation,” he said. The previous roof was made of a material that reflected sunlight and caused a glare and higher temperatures in a wing of classrooms in the building’s middle school, which is adjoined to the high school. Koelbel said the district first installed air conditioners to alleviate the problem, and then put a reflective film over the windows, but the green roof provides much greater benefits in addition to fixing an existing problem.

“The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School green roof is an excellent example of New York State’s statewide investments in green infrastructure,” Montalvo said in an email. “The green roof will reduce the overall pollutant loading entering Port Jefferson Harbor, as well as educate students and the public on the benefits of green infrastructure.”

Port Jefferson is the only district on Long Island to install a green roof. Koelbel said some districts have reached out to him with questions about the project, though none have visited yet. He added he has plans to host a workshop in the near future for Port Jefferson Village roofing contractors and commercial property owners who might be in need of a new roof to advocate for the installation of more green roofs.

“For the next generation, this is something we do now,” Koelbel said. The district also has solar panels installed on some buildings, which are used to teach lessons about energy use. They also replaced many lighting fixtures with LED lighting in the past. Koelbel said he was proud of the example the district is setting for students about reducing environmental impact.

“When you’re doing public works type stuff, getting innovative sometimes is difficult, so the fact that we could set it up this way where it was a savings to the district over what we would have done if we just did what we had always done, and now we get to demonstrate the benefits to the students — it’s a real plus,” he said. “It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

What is left of the foundation of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company in Mount Sinai. Photo by Edna Giffen

By Edna Giffen

When doing a project to benefit present and future generations, a municipality uncovered an item from the past.

As part of a stormwater mitigation project, the Town of Brookhaven has cleared a large area on the northeast corner of Mount Sinai Harbor adjacent to Shore Road. During this clearing, a cement structure was uncovered: the last remnants of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company.

During the early 1900s, cities were expanding and cement was needed in ever-increasing amounts, with Long Island sand being considered the highest quality.

Companies looked all over Long Island for easily accessible quantities of sand, and in February of 1909, The Port Jefferson Echo, the local newspaper at the time, started reporting on activities concerning mining in Mount Sinai.

On Feb. 6, 1909, New York parties purchased a small piece of bayfront for a dock in the northeast corner of the harbor. This group had already purchased a total of 64 acres of sandy hills across Shore Road, and the American Sand and Gravel Company brought in a pile driver to build a 200-foot dock. A mud digger was brought in to dig a channel to the harbor entrance on the northwest side of the harbor to permit barges to come and go as needed. A railroad trestle was started near the mining area.

In 1910, the American Sand and Gravel Company, which had started this process, sold everything to the newly formed Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company.

The company moved quickly. The railroad trestle was torn down and rebuilt in a more substantial manner to stand 16 feet above Shore Road, and a building for refining the sand was built on the property. The original plan was for the refining plant to help with housing development, but it became apparent that it’s real purpose was a full-scale mining operation.

Equipment was brought in, including a steam shovel, a donkey engine train and cars to carry the sand over the trestle. Crews of men were brought to work on the construction and the sand mining. By 1912, everything was ready to start the mining operation.

While the work was being done, there were concerns as to the benefits of the operation to the village, as evidenced by an item of Mount Sinai news in the Echo dated April 17, 1909.

A piece in the paper read: “The question whether the sand pile operation at Mount Sinai will bring into the village more money than would the desirable resident community, which they may drive away, is still being canvassed by the inhabitants. There is, however, no doubt of the dismay which has been created in the minds of some of those residing near the proposed sand dump, whose property is already seriously depreciated. On the other hand, it is claimed that if the talk of dredging of the harbor should prove to be of such a character as to be of benefit to the public, as well as to the sand company, the villagers will have cause to be grateful.”

Despite this, sand mining finally began in August 1912.

During the night of Sept. 3, 1912, the plant and part of the trestle were destroyed by fire. The cause was never discovered, the company did not rebuild and everything was left as is.

In 1913, local and summer residents petitioned the Town of Brookhaven to have the lease of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company cancelled as the company was no longer in operation.

The steam shovel, donkey engine and cars were taken to the Miller Place Railroad Station and sent to Canada in July 1916.

Finally, in November 1917, the trestle over Shore Road was removed.

Up until a few years ago, the wooden pylons from the dock were visible and the cement was recently exposed. The foundation of the refining plant is all that is left of this once controversial episode in Mount Sinai history.

Edna Giffen is a 12th-generation Miller Place resident now living in Mount Sinai. She is a local historian, archivist and current president of Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.

Water quality monitors take samples and check for bacteria. Photo from Sarah Ganong

It wasn’t pretty, but it was still pretty necessary.

More than 50 volunteers came together over the weekend to plant an acre of native Spartina cordgrass at Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown. The planting event was one of the first major public steps in a multiyear grant to restore river and marsh habitat and strengthen the park’s resilience to severe storms.

The $2.5 million project is funded by the Hurricane Sandy Competitive Grant Program and administered by Save the Sound with a team of governmental and nonprofit partners. Sunken Meadow State Park comprises 1,300 acres including the mouth of the Nissequogue River, salt and tidal marshes, dunes, coastal forest and three miles of Long Island Sound beachfront. Attracting over 2 million visitors a year, it is often dubbed the most popular state park in the New York City metro area.

Historically, Sunken Meadow Creek connected over 120 acres of marsh habitat with the Nissequogue estuary and the Sound, but in the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers built an earthen dike across the creek, restricting its tidal flow and fundamentally changing the marsh’s plant community, a spokeswoman for Save the Sound said. The Sunken Meadow Restoration team has been working since 2008 to restore tidal flow to the creek. Hurricane Sandy hit the park in October 2012. Its storm surge blew through the dike, fully reconnecting the marsh to the estuary for the first time in 60 years.

Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong
Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong

“Now that tidal flow is restored to Sunken Meadow Creek, we’re excited to combine marsh restoration, green infrastructure and public education to have an even greater impact,” said Gwen Macdonald, habitat restoration director for Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show millions of people what a comprehensive program for a healthy coastal ecosystem can look like, with less water pollution, better tidal flow and vibrant marshes for thriving bird, fish and wildlife populations.”

Several environmental groups from state and local levels joined forces starting in 2012 to develop a plan to build on this reconnection and prepare the park’s ecosystem for future storms. The Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan was established to manage stormwater, bulk up resilience of the marshes, explore improvements to riverine habitat and improve public knowledge and understanding of the ecological communites at the park.

“Today’s planting event is a first step in restoring historic tidal wetlands at Sunken Meadow State Park,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the northeastern regional office for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be able to support this project in partnership with the Department of the Interior through the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The project will provide many benefits including strengthening natural coastal buffers to large storms, increasing wildlife habitat and improving water quality in the park and the surrounding waters of Long Island Sound.”

Sunday’s planting was not the only activity at the park this summer. New York Parks Department and Save the Sound have hired a summer education staffer to engage tourists and local students around issues of native versus invasive species, stormwater runoff, climate change preparedness and other topics, with a focus on opening opportunities for young nature lovers to become citizen-scientists.

The next step in the project, according to Save the Sound, is designing green infrastructure solutions for a 12-acre parking lot that drains into Sunken Meadow Creek. Incorporating stormwater best management practices in the design will reduce the pollutants that run off the parking lot and allow water to percolate into the ground, improving water quality in the creek for the wildlife that calls it home.

Geese hang out on the banks of Lake Ronkonkoma. Their waste pollutes the lake. Photo by Phil Corso

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake is not what it used to be, but North Shore lawmakers and educators are teaming up to bring it back.

Darcy Lonsdale and her students attending the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences arrived at the docks of the 243-acre Lake Ronkonkoma on Tuesday morning, equipped with various aquatic testing supplies to study marine life in the waters. Bill Pfeiffer, part of the Nesconset Fire Department’s water rescue team, helped guide the students as residents and government officials flanked the docks in talks of a Lake Ronkonkoma that once was.

Pfeiffer has been diving in and exploring around Lake Ronkonkoma for years, mapping out the bottom of the lake and chronicling the different kinds of debris on its floor, which he said includes anything from parts of old amusement park rides to pieces of docks.

Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso
Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso

“This lake needs a healthy amount of attention,” he said. “It has been appearing clearer, but [Superstorm] Sandy turned it into a brown mud hole again.”

The lake is home to various species, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.

Members of the Lake Ronkonkoma Advisory Task Force hosted Pfeiffer and the students with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the waters and encouraging the four jurisdictions overseeing it — Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown towns and Suffolk County — to form one united board to advocate for the lake.

Newly elected county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the goal was to compile data that will help secure grant money, channel stormwater runoff away from the lake and garner legislative support for the lake.

“Years ago, this was a resort. There were tons of beachfronts. There were cabins and cabanas,” she said. “This is something we all could be proud of. It could be a site where people recreate.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy said she hoped a united front could attract more foot traffic and fishing to the lake. She stood along the waters on Tuesday morning and said she was anxious to see the kinds of results the Stony Brook students help to find.

“I am dying to know what the pH levels are at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Lawmakers and Lake Ronkonkoma advocates said one of the biggest hurdles in the way of cleaner waters rested in the population of geese gaggling around the area. As more geese make their way in and around the lake, the nitrogen in their waste pollutes the water. Volunteers with the Lake Ronkonkoma civic had to sweep the length of the dock Tuesday morning, as Pfeiffer prepared for the students, in order to rid it of geese excrement.

“To help the lake, relocating or terminating some of the geese might not be a bad idea,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

The students could be funneling data to the different municipalities overseeing the lake by the end of the summer.

“You want a report that will spell out how to improve the clarity of this water,” Romaine said. “The students are welcome back anytime.”