Coalition Fights To Save Yaphank Lakes
By:Barbara LaMonica

FUTURE IN QUESTION—The Upper Lake of the Carmans River (pictured), located in Yaphank, thrives with fish and plant life. Residents can enjoy fishing, canoeing and a serene vista, but all of that could disappear if a decision is made to remove dams.
The issue of how to eradicate invasive aquatic plant species that are forming within the Carmans River watershed is coming to a head, and local residents who make up the Coalition to Save the Yaphank Lakes have their own idea of a solution.
The Carolina fanwort, otherwise known as the cabomba weed, and variable leaf watermilfoil, also known as Myriophyllum heterophyllum, are the culprits. Solutions to putting a lid on these aquatic invasive species include the use of sonic herbicide, or removing the four centuries-old dams that were placed in the Carmans River which, over time, have formed the upper and lower lakes in Yaphank. The dams are located along the upper sections of the river at Upper Mill Pond, Lower Mill Pond, Southaven Park and Sunrise Highway. Removing the dams would allow the Carmans River to flow faster.
Representatives of the Coalition to Save the Yaphank Lakes are concerned, however, that removing the dams would make the lakes they have come to know and enjoy all but disappear. Freshwater and tidal portions of the Carmans River support more than 40 species of fish, including brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, yellow perch, white perch, American eel and carp. Robert Kessler, co-founder of the coalition, along with his wife, Audrey, says the mission of the group is to "restore, protect, preserve, and clean up the lakes" by working with intergovernmental representatives and other entities in order to accomplish this goal without removing the dams.
John Turner, Brookhaven Town's director of environmental protection, confirmed that removing the dams would result in the upper and lower lakes receding, which would, over time, reveal the appearance of marshlands. Turner, who has not yet rendered his recommendations on the most effective way to eradicate the invasive species, said that there are options that will be taken into account before a decision is made.
"There are clear benefits to removing the dams, because you would eliminate the invasive species problem, and you re-establish free-flowing cold water, and you would restore the river's natural course from centuries ago," Turner explained. "On the negative side, this is not just a scientific issue, but a cultural issue as well, because it affects property values, and residents have a scenically beautiful view of the river, and if the impoundments that have been there for many, many decades are removed, the lakes would recede."
"We don't want the dams removed," Kessler said, noting that fish ladders installed onto existing dams would provide broader access for trout and other species to access other parts of the river. "What we do want is for the lakes to be cleaned up, and this is something that is going to take some management, and it will be ongoing."
New York State Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Wading River) and Brookhaven Town Fourth District Councilwoman Connie Kepert have consistently maintained their positions opposing removal of the dams, and their support for the installation of fish ladders that would allow brook trout to access other areas of the Carmans River to spawn and increase their population.
When members of the Coalition to Save the Yaphank Lakes meet next week, they will hear from experts who will discuss the pros and cons of herbicides as a means of eradicating the invasive species.
"Right now, the coalition is not in favor of chemicals to eradicate the invasive weeds and species, but if it is the consensus of state and town environmental experts that this is safe enough to use, then we would support it," Kessler said. "We just want to make sure we do it the right way because any decision that is made doesn't just affect the lakes - it's the entire Carmans River."
Meanwhile, Kessler suggests removing or harvesting the aquatic invasive plants by using a harvesting machine. He said harvesting the weeds won't get them out from the roots, but some of the growth could be cut until a permanent decision on how to address the issue is made.
A meeting is scheduled for January 31 at 6:30 p.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall, located at One Independence Hill in Farmingville. Scheduled speakers include a representative from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as a representative from a sonar chemical company. The meeting is open to the public.

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