Eyes on Lake Montauk

Committee debates paths to a cleaner watershed
Lake Montauk - Girl on Beach
To improve water quality in Lake Montauk, an ad hoc watershed advisory committee agreed that dredging is essential, but was less sure of the right way to address the flow of coliform bacteria into the lake. Russell Drumm

    The wheels were spinning and there were lots of ideas about improving water and habitat quality, but the 21 people who attended the second meeting of the ad hoc Lake Montauk Watershed Committee agreed after a lengthy discussion that traction was needed.
    The meeting was held on April 20 to gather technical input from the group, one component in a joint effort by the state and the town to create a Lake Montauk Watershed Management Plan. A $75,000 grant from the State Department of State’s division of coastal resources is being matched by the town. The plan is being developed under meticulous guidelines set forth by the state, but a few members expressed impatience.
    “Give me two men with shovels,” said Jimmy Hewitt, a lakeside resident. “We can do things now. We don’t need to wait for more studies. Let’s get one little thing out of this meeting. Let’s flush the toilet somehow,” he told Larry Penny, the town’s director of natural resources, who chaired the meeting.
    The analogy seemed appropriate. Much of the discussion, which took place at the Montauk Coast Guard Station on Star Island, focused on septic waste from various areas around the 1,000-acre lake, particularly from a natural tributary known as “the Ditch” that carries rain and groundwater into the lake from the densly-populated Ditch Plain community seaward of the lake’s south end.
    The general consensus seemed to be that Lake Montauk was badly in need of dredging, not only in the Montauk Harbor Inlet, but also farther south to remove a sand shoal now blocking a channel that otherwise permits tidal flow to reach the lake’s south end. And, it seemed clear that something had to be done to staunch the flow of coliform bacteria, associated with sewage, into the lake.
    The first conclusion was virtually unanimous, although there was a lengthy discussion about where, exactly, to dredge in the channel between Gone Fishing Marina on the east and Peter Kalikow’s property on Star Island to the west. Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson also stated his concern that an upcoming emergency dredging of the inlet could once again put off a comprehensive dredging scheduled for 2013.
    The second approach to improving water quality will be harder. The idea that areas around the lake, the Ditch Plain community in particular, should be fitted with small-scale, decentralized sewage treatment plants was a good one, said Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, but Mr. Wilkinson pointed out that many people fear that treatment plants invite development.
    “They can be separated, but there’s