Ongoing Marion Lake restoration project impacted by Sandy

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Biologist Steve Marino inspects the damage superstorm Sandy caused to Lake Marion.

The restoration of Marion Lake suffered a setback after Hurricane Sandy swept through East Marion in October, but the effort to transform the lake into a healthy and vibrant wetland is not losing steam.

The Marion Lake Restoration Committee gathered Saturday to inspect the Bay Avenue site along with Steve Marino, a wetlands biologist from upstate who has been working with the group to eradicate invasive phragmites that once had a stronghold over the lake.

Floodwaters brought on by Sandy’s storm surge caused the saltwater Orient Harbor to mix with the freshwater lake. Saltwater saturation is stifling much of the seeds the group planted last spring, Mr. Marino said. Sandy also claimed a plum tree planted in honor of the volunteers helping to restore the lake.

The phragmites, however, survived. The plant is more tolerant of saltwater than many other freshwater species, according to Mr. Marino.

Still, there are signs the lake is doing better then expected after being ravaged by the storm. Some cattails and ferns planted by the committee have managed to sprout through the soil.

“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” the group’s leader Lori Luscher said of the post-storm damage.

Following Sandy, the group rallied to pull out chairs, toys and debris from the lake. Now that the weather is warming up, Mr. Marino suggested the committee focus on reseeding and continuing to remove the resilient phragmites.

Mr. Marino said the East Marion project is one of the largest he’s undertaken in his 27-year career. Before the restoration of the lake began seven years ago, the need to remove phagmites at Marion Lake had reached a critical level. The plants around the bridge threatened to stop the flow of water from one side of the lake to the other. The water, with no natural connection to Orient Harbor, would become stagnant and polluted.

Persistent in her fight to save the lake, Ms. Luscher has been called East Marion’s own Erin Brockovich. For her tireless work in releasing Marion Lake from this decades-long ecological stranglehold, The Suffolk Times named Ms. Luscher Civic Person of the Year in 2008.

The project is a result of hundreds of hours of grant-writing and negotiating with the Department of Environmental Conservation. In November 2008, Ms. Luscher obtained the proper permits, political and financial support from the Southold Town Trustees and a $100,000 matching grant from the DEC to move the restoration forward. That money funded the spraying and removal of invasive phragmites by professional groups.

“Before we started you couldn’t see the bridge from the other side of the lake,” Mr. Marino said. “It’s been quite a transformation.”

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