Groups Clash Over Future Of Carmans River
By:Barbara LaMonica

The Carmans River provides habitat for an array of aquatic species, including brook trout, large-mouthed bass, eel and river herring. But the man-made dams installed a few hundred years ago are what give the river its lake characteristics that, in turn, provide warmer water temperatures for an aquatic species foreign to cold water rivers - like the invasive cabomba weed - to thrive in.
Now, the questions of how to stem the tide of the ever-increasing cabomba weed, and whether the dams should be removed, have become a point of contention. Removing the dams would reconfigure the Carmans River to become a narrower, cold water river, wherein the surrounding lakes would recede to varying degrees.
Advocating for the dams to remain in place, Yaphank resident Johan McConnell asked the Brookhaven Town Board earlier this month to create a task force. The coalition would consist of a group of local residents who support maintaining the dams as they are currently installed, and to remove the cabomba weed that makes its ever-increasing presence evident in early spring.
In the 2008 budget, which was slated to be voted on yesterday, November 20, $100,000 has been allocated for the removal of the cabomba weed, according to Fourth District Councilwoman Connie Kepert. Confirming that she will be proposing a resolution to support McConnell's request for the task force, Kepert noted that the resolution will likely come before the town board before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, arguments on both sides of the debate continue to escalate. Dave Thompson, regional vice president of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited, said he is "opposed to any effort to maintain the dams," and reported that the Carmans River "holds the most significant native brook trout population on Long Island." This trout population, Thompson noted, is diminishing.
"When the river was dammed ... they created a water quality problem because this slowed the river down and created a warmer water [environment] for the invasive aquatic cabomba weed," Thompson explained, "and the dams fragmented the brook trout population, which rely on the clean, cold waters of the Carmans River to spawn and survive, so the freshwater part of the river is critical to this."
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded a $42,000 grant to install a fish ladder in the river, according to Thompson, which will help the trout to spawn and survive. The ladder is a two-foot by four-foot aluminum box that cuts a notch in the dam to slow the water down enough for the trout to negotiate through to the colder waters to spawn.
Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister also supports the removal of the dams. "Removing the dams would lower the water temperatures, which in turn would be more conducive to arresting the growth of invasives," McAllister said. "The dams have created artificial lakes, which have made a conducive environment for this weed to dominate. The Carmans River is one of the few streams that support native brook trout, and what we should be doing is trying to enhance the stability of this population."
But local resident Robert Kessler is vehemently opposed to removing the dams in the upper lake at Mill Road and in the lower lake at Yaphank Avenue, and supports maintaining the structures as they currently exist. Kessler noted the abundance of fish species in the lakes - in particular large-mouthed bass, perch, pike and eel - and asserts that "by removing these dams we would give up many of these species for trout." He also noted that the osprey, which now feed in the lakes, would not continue to thrive along a faster-moving, cold water river.
"These dams were artificially made in 1736 for power saw and grain mills," Kessler explained. "They're saying by taking them away, the trout can swim upstream to the headwaters of the Carmans River and spawn, then go back out to the bay again, but the same can be accomplished by constructing fish ladders to allow the fish to move from the lower to the upper body of water, and we do support that method."
While McAllister agreed that removing the dams would threaten the existence of large-mouthed bass and other species in the lakes, he noted that these species also prey on trout for food, and that the Carmans River should be returned to its most natural state.
Kepert said the removal of the dams would increase the flow of the river, and the lakes it branches out to will disappear to create a narrower river. Kessler added, "By removing the dams, we won't have the lakes that people enjoy for boating, canoeing and swimming."
Meanwhile, Kepert has taken steps to secure funding by contracting with a company to eliminate the cabomba weed using sonar herbicide. But Thompson and McAllister maintain that sonar herbicide may not be the best method of eliminating the cabomba weed. "That's heading in the wrong direction," Thompson said. "To be fair, all options need to be studied, including dam removal, to at least define the most permanent and economic way to deal with this aquatic invasive."
"I'm opposed to the use of sonar at face value," McAllister added. "There are concerns about the use of sonar as an herbicide, and we need more research."

ęSuffolk Life Newspapers 2007