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Apr 13, 2011 9:29 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Concerns About Lake Montauk Swirl As Study Continues

Apr 13, 2011 9:29 AM

Richard Kahn remembers when his concrete seawall along Lake Montauk would be piled high with broken shellfish remains by mid-summer. When he first bought his home, seagulls would drop scores of clams, oysters and scallops on the wall to break their shells so they could get at the meat.

That was 1965. Now, Mr. Kahn said, the seawall is practically bare. He takes it as one of the signs that the lake is in decline; that its water has become polluted and its life is disappearing.

“It’s quite clear,” Mr. Kahn said. “Thirty years ago, it was tough to swim in the lake because you were swimming through beds of eelgrass. That no longer exists.”

Concerns over the lake have caused some Montauk residents to question what happened to an East Hampton Town watershed study that began in 2008 and was meant to examine the water quality and ecology of the 900-acre body of water. Some say the town has allowed the study to languish, noting the technical committee it convened to oversee the research has not met since February 2010.

“This has just been run amuck,” said Rav Freidel, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk who sits on the Lake Montauk Watershed Committee. Mr. Freidel, like some other Montauk residents, criticized the town for never clearly defining the scope of the study and not being forthcoming with information about the health of the lake.

Meanwhile, some say, the body of water has been filling up with pollutants that snuff out life.

Jeremy Samuelson, an environmental advocate for Group for the East End, described “acre upon acre” of eelgrass disappearing from the lake over the years while shellfish and finfish populations have plummeted. The water has become more difficult to see through due to activities that stir up sediments, he said, and lakeside development has caused nitrates and other pollutants to seep in.

“These are all canaries in the coal mine of water quality,” Mr. Samuelson said.

The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee invited Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny to a meeting on April 4 to answer questions about the state of the lake and the study, but Mr. Penny cancelled his appearance shortly before the meeting due to an illness.

When reached this week, Mr. Penny said the state of Lake Montauk is “not so bad, actually,” noting that it has the second most eelgrass of the town’s 
seven tidal bodies, with Napeague Harbor having the most. Eelgrass is used as shelter by many marine species, and has been disappearing from the entire Peconic Estuary for decades.

The watershed study is progressing and will be done by its August 11 deadline, Mr. Penny said. The study’s 15-member committee was reappointed with some new members by the Town Board on March 15, and will meet on April 20, he said. When asked why the committee has not met in more than a year, Mr. Penny said the roster of the original committee needed to be more balanced—for instance, it had three Concerned Citizens of Montauk members when it should have had one—and it took the Town Board that long to decide on new appointments.

The town received a $75,000 grant from the New York State Department of State, which covers half of the cost of the project, Mr. Penny said, and has hired Cornell Cooperative Extension as a consultant.

One problem with the lake, which is common among many bodies of water on Long Island that are surrounded by development, is an influx of nitrates and coliform bacteria due to effluent from septic systems making its way into the water, Mr. Penny said. The pollutants are known to harm marine plant and animal life.

“That’s something that we have to try to get a handle on,” Mr. Penny said. The town, he added, is considering seeking a grant to build a sewerage treatment plant to stop the flow of pollutants into the lake.

At a meeting last month, CAC member Jimmy Hewitt reported that shellfish he planted on bottomland he owns in the southern part of the lake had died off, according to CAC members present at the meeting, prompting renewed interest in the lake and the request for Mr. Penny to address the committee.

When reached last week, Mr. Hewitt said he did not want to discuss the reported die-off, citing his worry that media reports about problems with the lake could harm summer tourism. “As of this moment, there’s nothing hazardous that’s going to hurt anybody in there,” he said.

Concerns over water quality have centered on the southern part of the lake, where there is little water flow. But the worries are not unanimous. Stuart Heath, a bayman who fishes the lake, said there are about six men who make their livings entirely off the lake’s shellfish.

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The gulls are dropping them on my house now. My gutters are overflowing with seashells and pieces of crabs. My deck has sharp pieces of mussel shells stuck in between boards and in summer the place smells to high heavens with all the decomposing sea life. Never used to happen years ago. You can have it all back!
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Apr 13, 11 10:44 AM
According to the article two of the oldest and most respected environmental groups in our community said there's something wrong with Lake Montauk. They wondered what the E.H. Natural Resources Dept. director was doing about it and why the watershed study wasn't moving forward and why no meetings of the watershed committee have been held in more then a year. I'm sure thats right. When asked to attetend a meeting of the citizens advisory committee to explain he became ill and begged off. I'm sure ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 13, 11 3:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
too many boats and too many homes along the water, what do you think will happen to the water quality?
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Apr 13, 11 7:41 PM
The problem isn't just in lake Montauk or in the peconics the depletion off our see life is in all of our waters. This problem isn't just happening here ether its all over. Maryland blue crab for instance is on the decline as well. We have to fix this problem before its to late if its not already!
By capt. Jack (17), Southampton on Apr 14, 11 12:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
Its not a question of how bad Montauk Lake is compared to other bodies of water. The question is why isn't it better. There's been a study in place for at least 5 years, paid for with grants, advised by a group of citizens, headed by the supposed primier environmentalist on the Island, and now managed by Wilk & Quig. The Lake should be on its way to being pristine. But what we have is incompetance, bungeling, and excuses. And that goes for CCOM and The Group For the East End. Some years ago when ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 14, 11 3:58 PM
Sounds like Facts Man is either MicGintee or Loewen or a relative. In any case, believe Stuart Heath. He is non political...unlike Facts Man... and he is in that water everyday. A very large portion of local clams sold at fish markets in the area come from Lake Montauk. Ask those fish market owners if there has been any problems with the shellfish coming out of the lake. If there has been a problem it is because McGintee never focused on the issue...the lake...and was more interested in helping ...more
By connwatcher (112), east hampton on Apr 17, 11 6:32 PM
OK conn speculate all you want and try to divert everyone from the facts of this article by blaming Loewen and McG.for everything. Penny, Wilk and Quig have accomplished nothing for the Lake in the years they've been in charge except try to sell the fish docks and condone illegal dredging of their friends marina. Don't forget this project was run by Penny during the last admin. and he accomplished nothing then either but when they tried to do something about it political people like you beat up ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 18, 11 9:00 AM
Well I'm not Murphy -- the guy who had the McGintee and the finacial nightmare NAILED. Spota has let Levy stay in office but not run again for the pay to play scheme he was part of. Spota forced McGintee to quit so we now can put into perspective how deplorable McGintee's actions were. Levy in the middle of a illegal contribution scandal and he gets to stay. McGintee in the middle of a financial shell game and Spota forces him to resign. Murphy had it NAILED from day one. The arrogance that ...more
By connwatcher (112), east hampton on Apr 18, 11 10:02 PM
“There’s nothing wrong with that damned lake,” Mr. Heath said.

If there's nothing wrong with the lake, why does Mr. Heath refer to it as "damned"?

   [damd] Show IPA adjective, superlative damned·est, damnd·est, noun, adverb –adjective

1. condemned or doomed, especially to eternal punishment:
By HappyQuahog (5), East Hampton on Apr 19, 11 8:44 AM
conn you can guess at my identity all you want. It's not important and I really don't care who you are. What is important is not who but what you are and I've got you pegged. But the question at hand is Montauk Lake. Not L&M or Spoda, or Levi, or Heath. So lets keep on subject. I say the Lake has deteriated due to incompetence or politics of Wilk, Quig, and Penny. You disagree so give us a list of what they have accomplished not what they say their going to do. As a reminder refer to my post here ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 19, 11 11:54 AM
It's deteriorated due to the incompetence of HUMANITY.

Just take a look at our PLANET. This lake is just a small snippet of the defilement perpetrated by people. Sure, you can single out a few in the local area, but it just goes to prove these words, spoken so long ago:

"Man is the only animal who deliberately fouls his own nest & then calls it profitable to do so."
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 19, 11 4:08 PM
Facts Man...you cite no facts from the article that even allude to any problem getting worse over the last yearin the lake. In fact if you read the article it cites experts and users who say the lake in in good shape.

Stuart Heath, a user, says:
“There’s nothing wrong with that damned lake,” Mr. Heath said. “I go clamming there every day. There’s more shellfish in that lake than you can shake a stick at.” Heath uses the word damn because he is disgusted ...more
By connwatcher (112), east hampton on Apr 19, 11 9:24 PM
"Stuart Heath, a bayman who fishes the lake, said there are about six men who make their livings entirely off the lake’s shellfish."

At $0.20 to $0.25 per clam wholesale and each man considering they are single with no family would need to earn at least $40K/year to cover their living expenses (at the very minimum) that's between 160,000 to 200,000 clams per man per year.

Multiply that by "about six men" that amounts to 960,000 to 1,200,000 clams a year being harvested out ...more
By HappyQuahog (5), East Hampton on Apr 19, 11 10:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
My error, I ment a list of their accomplishments pertinant to the Lake. Here are some facts. R Kahn, Montauk resident says the Lake has deterioated. (E H Press). Rav Friedel CCOM and watershed committee member critizes town in handling of watershed study (EH Press). J. Samuelson of the Group For the East End reports eelgrass die off as well as diminished shell and finfish populations (EH Press) Reporte of shellfish die off on private bed (EH Press). MCAC asks Penny to explain but is a no show ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 20, 11 8:12 PM
I can't remain silent any longer on this. This guy Facts Man is nothing more than a political hack. He first accuses someone of being Rick Murhphy. Then when that person identifies Facts Man he says he is not playing the identity game. He says give me some facts. When someone cites the actual observations of users and caretakers of the lake he discounts those opinions. Facts Man has a factless based answer for everything. He is a politcal boob who obviously will make up anything to criticize ...more
By factsandtruth (42), East Hampton on Apr 22, 11 8:14 PM
A political hack is a person in the employ of a party or polititon who defends slavishly every actiion or idea and praises and adores blindly for political reasons. Sounds exactly like you! I've critisized Wilk many times with facts. That makes me a target of those who disagree with me and instead of making a reasonable counter argument they spend their time guessing who I might be and calling me names. The question is still what has Wilk done for Montauk Lake? Fact
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 23, 11 7:39 AM
factsman -- just read all your posts. Everything is based on your opinion and self proclaimed facts. You use your fabricated "facts" to attack one particular political group. That is a true hack because you make things up from hole cloth in order to argue your positions. You seem to be a very bitter and angry person.
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Apr 23, 11 10:30 AM
As a former town board member you must have some insight. If you have "facts" counter me with them. I'm laying myself open to you. Prove me wrong and then we can have a debate instead of a playground name calling fight. I can only assume i've hit a nerve and the truth otherwise you wouldn't be throwing spit balls at me. 27 East is giving you an oppertunity to be an adult. The question is still what has Wilk done for Montauk Lake? Fact.
By facts man (148), east hampton on Apr 23, 11 11:12 AM
So what is the solution? Can we all put our heads together and find one? I am interested. We have to demand they in TB seats put environment first. Until we do, we get the staus quo. My two cents, lads.
By honor trees (14), east Hampton on Apr 25, 11 3:58 PM
2 members liked this comment
We presented our all natural Lake Restoration Approach to Mill Pond recently. Our story is published in 27 East. We would be happy to provide a town hall meeting to Montauk resident's to provide all natural solution through our Clean-Flo and Floating Islands International engineering. (914) 260-5678 Jack Mosel, Lake Restorration Consultant, Lake Saver's
By moseljack (3), Carmel on May 18, 11 11:17 PM