Tag Archive | "Amagansett"

Gayle Pickering Resigns as Chairwoman of the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals

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Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Gayle Pickering has resigned from her post, according to a letter she sent to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride on Tuesday, November 20.

Her resignation will be effective December 31, 2012.

Pickering will be away during the December meeting, meaning last month’s session was her last on the dais.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure being a member of the Board, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve the village,” wrote Pickering in her letter. “At this point in time, however, due to personal reasons, I would like to resign my position.”

On Tuesday, Pickering said the resignation comes simply because her architecture practice is thriving and she intends to travel extensively this year, making it difficult to be able to attend the board’s night time sessions each month.

“I don’t feel that I can devote the time needed to the ZBA it deserves,” said Pickering on Tuesday. “I will miss the December meeting to go to Florida to visit my dad, and we are travelling over the February break as well. As much as I truly enjoyed the work, I feel that it is unfair to the village for them to have a board member that is unable to dedicate the time needed to make informed decisions, and that it would be better to let someone else have all the fun.”

Pickering began her foray into public service 20 years ago as a member and chair of the Sag Harbor Planning Board, before joining the East Hampton Town Planning Board. She left that board in 2006 and came back to Sag Harbor where after a brief stint as a member of the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board she joined the Sag Harbor ZBA, becoming its chairperson in 2008.

“We thank Gayle for all of her service to the village and wish her well,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride on Tuesday. “She has done great work and she will be missed.”

First East End GLBT Center Meeting This Friday in Bridgehampton

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The first meeting of the East End GLBT Center Advisory Committee will be held this Friday, November 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgehampton National Bank on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton.

The committee was formed in response to the bullying-related suicide of 16-year-old East Hampton resident David Hernandez.

Following Hernandez’s death, LIGALY (Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth) — an advocacy organization based in Bay Shore with youth centers in that community and in Garden City in Nassau County — held a forum at East Hampton High School. Chief Executive Officer David Kilmnick called for the creation of a GLBT Youth Center on the East End, noting the kind of support these centers offer are currently over 60 miles from East Hampton, leaving many youth without a support network.

Sag Harbor residents Beatrice Alda, and her partner Jennifer Brooke, have already promised a $20,000 matching grant towards the creation of this center.

According to Kilmnick, the meeting is open to the public.

WPPB 88.3 & Guild Hall Benefit Set for Friday

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Scores of local musicians are expected to turn out this weekend to support two local non-profit institutions at a benefit concert courtesy of Amagansett’s Crossroads Music.

On Friday, November 30 at 7 p.m. Crossroads Music presents On the Air @ Guild Hall: A Community Benefit for WPPB 88.3 FM and Guild Hall. Money raised from the concert will support the efforts of Southampton-based WPPB, the local NPR station, as well as East Hampton’s Guild Hall, a center for arts and theater in the community.

Hosted by Grammy Award winning recording engineer Cynthia Daniels, along with the WPPB team – Bonnie Grice, Brian Cosgrove and Ed German – the concert will be directed by Randolph Hudson III and recorded by WPPB 88.3 for posterity.

Performers will include drummer Corky Laing from Mountain, the Kerry Kearney Band, Black & Sparrow (Klyph Black and John Sparrow), Miles to Dayton, The Black Petals, K-O-S (Keeping Original Sound), Glenn Feit, Dick Johansson, Alfredo Merat, the Ross Brazilian Jazz Quartet and more.

Tickets are $20 for general admission, $18 for members and $10 for students. Guild Hall is at 158 Main Street, East Hampton. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.guildhall.org.

Leaving the Dark for the Light

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Sometimes you have to experience the dark to find the light.

For brothers Alan and Jarrett Steil the last year and a half of their journey as musicians breaking into the Los Angeles music scene has been just that.

In 2011, Suddyn, the band the brothers formed in their native Montauk almost a decade earlier, had the promise of exposure in their own backyard through MTK — a world-class music festival planned for East Hampton.

But that festival fell apart without ever coming to fruition and shortly thereafter, the group’s Irish drummer Brendan Connolly left the band.

However, for Alan, the group’s lead singer, keyboard and trumpet player, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Alan was ready to move on from Suddyn, a band that had brought he and Jarrett success in Ireland, including a top-10 hit in 2004, and taken them out to Los Angeles in 2011 where they played sold-out clubs on the storied Sunset Strip.

“We needed to wipe the slate clean,” said Alan in an interview from the Montauk Bake Shoppe. His parents, Alan, Sr. and Celeste own the bakery and this week the brothers and the band’s manager — muse and champion, Linda O’Connor — were gathered to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

Earlier this year, Alan and Jarrett regrouped and formed the indie-rock band The Rebel Light with 22-year-old drummer Brandon Cooke, a California native. With the success of a video for the band’s first single, “Goodbye Serenade,” which has earned close to 5,000 hits on YouTube, on November 13 The Rebel Light released a self-titled EP.

“The Rebel Light” EP features “My Heroes Are Dead,” “Goodbye Serenade,” and “Wake Up Your Mind.” It is available free to download through the band’s website, http://therebellight.com.

“I think our name, the music we are doing, and the way we are doing business is a lot more current,” said Alan. “I think our first year [in California] we were ignoring aspects of the musical journey in Los Angeles.”

“Whenever I thought about playing in L.A. I thought about the Sunset Strip,” he added. “But there is this great grassroots music scene in places like Silver Lake and Eagle Rock which is where we find ourselves a lot more now these days.”

Grassroots would certainly be a way to describe the recording of “The Rebel Light,” which was completed in a shed at Cooke’s parent’s home in Yuciapa in the San Bernadino Valley, as well as Alan and Jarrett’s bathroom and closet in Hollywood.

“I think people really respected that we literally did this completely on our own,” said Alan. “”We recorded it ourselves, we produced it ourselves and I think people have really liked the sound.”

With the addition of Cooke — who is not related to Alan and Jarrett despite a little joke the band played on an online magazine where they identified Cooke as a long lost cousin, a fib that has spread across the web — Alan said the sound he and Jarrett cultivated through Suddyn has also evolved.

“I think we have a little more of a retro sound,” said Alan. “I hate to use this word, but it really is more organic for us. It is more who we really are, less contrived and forced. Towards the end of Suddyn, I almost felt like we were too polished. We are a lot more relaxed now, less alternative pop rock and more indie rock.”

For Alan, some aspects of an evolved music business — which is largely funded through tours, rather than album sales, and includes the ability to produce a high-quality record without a major label or formal studio — are appealing.

“There is a lot more music out there and it is much harder to get to the top, top than it used to be,” he said. “But we also have a lot more control over our careers, and we can reach thousands through the Internet.”

“There are so many avenues for us to pursue our music,” added Alan. “For someone like me, I’ll give my music away because I would rather hand out 200 EPs, have people listen to it, love it and come see us at a show sometime than charge people $5 for some songs.”

For Alan, the possibilities for the future are both endless and bright, and you can hear it in The Rebel Light’s music — hope overcoming the angst melancholy Suddyn was often known for in its early years.

“It’s in our favor to continue to focus on the West Coast, promote the EP, record new music, just keep pushing forward,” he said. “Every band’s path is different and we are just figuring out what ours is. It’s hard work, but we are creating our own kind of luck.”

 

Gas Lines Continue Despite Promises of Relief

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By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller

It began as a news report, quickly spreading to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and by last Thursday afternoon concerns about a gas shortage on Long Island had morphed into the real thing.

For a week now, getting gasoline for a car, or generator, has become a process sometimes lasting hours. Without the right intelligence, either from Facebook and Twitter posts, or websites like www.gasbuddy.com, it can also lead people on mad searches for an open gas pump, unsure where they will be able to find the next place to fill-up.

Last Friday morning, at Harbor Heights Gas Station on Route 114 in Sag Harbor, a line of more than 30 cars waited patiently, hoping to fill up the gas tank as fears of the shortage spread across the East End. Many gas stations started closing once they were out of fuel. At one point, the line to Harbor Heights on Friday snaked back to St. Andrew’s Church and began clogging the busy roadway, prompting Sag Harbor Village Police to monitor the situation to ensure Route 114 remained open to traffic despite the gas line.

“Everyone has been waiting nice, normal and patient,” said Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano on Friday.

According to station attendant Pam Kern, who had been working the pumps alone that morning after a full day of work on Thursday, once Harbor Heights Gas Station ran out of fuel it expected to receive a new shipment on Monday or Tuesday of this week. However, both the Sag Harbor Getty on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike and Harbor Heights remained shuttered as of Wednesday evening.

But stations in East Hampton and Southampton have intermittently been receiving shipments of fuel, usually in the morning, leading to long lines of cars and trucks waiting to fill up for fear of a larger fuel shortage.

On Monday afternoon, the Shell Station in Hampton Bays offered customers 10 gallons of free gasoline, supplied by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fuel truck that arrived from New Jersey.

At the root of the issue is the devastation further west left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — coined Super Storm Sandy — which made landfall in southern New Jersey on Monday, October 29. Because of mass electrical outages and the closing of key ports by the United States Coast Guard in anticipation of the storm, simply getting gas to Long Island became a challenge.

The pipelines and terminals providing gasoline to distribution networks on Long Island were also disrupted due to power outages that reduced flow capacity.

Last Thursday, Senator Charles Schumer announced the Port of New York would re-open for fuel services in an effort to bring more fuel into the region.

According to Schumer’s office and the Energy Department, New York Harbor is the busiest oil port in the world, receiving an average of 900,000 barrels of petroleum products per day. According to a Reuters report, the New York Harbor is a critical hub for the region, with some 75 million barrels of storage capacity that allows companies to import, blend and trade everything from gasoline to jet fuel before trucking it to airports or fuel pumps.

On Sunday, November 4, Congressman Tim Bishop’s office announced that the Energy Department has established a team to assist local authorities in efforts to get gas stations back online.

Congressman Bishop said the Energy Department has established a toll-free number at 1-866-402-3775 which gas station owners and managers can call if they need assistance restoring power or securing supplies of gasoline.

“The situation will continue to improve in the coming days as gas deliveries increase, but this new federal effort to link service station owners with the resources they need to serve the public is a critical step in returning the system to normal,” said Bishop.

Earlier in the week, Bishop also encouraged residents to report if they felt they were being price gouged at the pumps. Motorists are advised to hold onto their receipts and contact the Suffolk County Consumer Affairs Hotline at 1-800-909-5423.

On Monday, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a Sag Harbor resident, said residents should use resources like www.gasbuddy.com or www.hessexpress.com to find out where gasoline can be found in their towns and villages.

On Wednesday, Thiele lamented that while gas lines appeared to be getting shorter on Monday and Tuesday, with the nor’easter approaching, the shortage had become worse on the South Fork, although he cautioned residents that the shortage was by no means a issue he believed would be a long term problem for Long Island.

According to www.gasbuddy.com, as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday evening, only the Mobil Gas Station on County Road 39 and North Sea Road had gas reserves in Southampton Town. In Water Mill the Hess Station at Montauk Highway and Scuttlehole Road was also distributing gas, as was the Empire gas station on North Main Street in East Hampton.

“It appears like there is not as much gas on the South Fork as there has been in recent days, but suffice to say while there is some gas available, we are not back to normal and my conversations with the governor’s office have started getting a little tense,” said Thiele.

Thiele said particularly because of the nor’easter, and with some residents relying on gas supplies to run their generators, it was critical that government officials amp up their efforts to restore gas supplies and energy, not just to the East End but across Long Island.

“I know this was a monumental storm,” said Thiele, “but it seems to me while there was a great initial response, things are starting to plateau a little in terms of the response, and that concerns me. We need to redouble our efforts before the next storm hits. It’s November. There are going to be more storms.”

 

State Denies Grant for Local Schools Looking into School District Consolidation

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Several East End schools suffered a blow last week when they learned they had not been awarded a competitive Local Government Efficiency Grant, which would have examined the possibility of consolidating and reorganizing local school districts.

Despite this setback, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle — who had written letters of support for the grant — are determined to move forward.

“Senator LaValle and I will find another way to fund this consolidation study,” said Thiele in an interview on Monday.

In a separate interview, LaValle echoed Thiele’s comments.

“I will keep at it,” he said. “I will pursue it. I will pursue some money, as I did, outside of the competitive grant process, to get the districts to talk about how they can share services or where there is interest in an out and out consolidation.”

Thiele said that he and LaValle would probably look into a legislative grant or “other forms of funding where the legislature has direct control over the funding, not funding that the Governor controls.”

The Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Tuckahoe, Springs, Montauk and Hampton Bays school districts, as well Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), had originally filed for the grant back in March.

The grant is part of the New York Department of State’s (DOS) Local Government Efficiency Program, which seeks to help municipalities save money and operate more efficiently through consolidations, mergers, the sharing of services and other tactics.

According to a press release from the DOS, $4 million dollars had been allocated for grant monies, and municipalities could apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

The grants, said LaValle, were “competitively scored by the Department of State, based upon the quality of the applicants’ data and endeavor.”

“From what I was told, the [local schools’] grant did not score high,” said Thiele, noting that of the 21 groups that were awarded the grant, only three were school districts.

“Assemblyman Thiele and I cannot go beyond what we did, in terms of local officials supporting their grants, because it would be unethical to use — as people would say, ‘political muscle’ — to try and affect political grants,” LaValle added.

LaValle has been a strong proponent of consolidation of South Fork school districts throughout his tenure. He said in the past, local school districts had received millions of dollars in state aid, some of which they could have used to conduct things like efficiency grant studies.

“In the past, I had secured money and they never really went forward with any consolidation — or even any efficiencies — that they could bring about by sharing services,” he said.

However, LaValle noted the decision for school consolidation is entirely up to the community.

For example, if two school districts wanted to consolidate, both school boards would have to approve of it. Then, referendums would have to be passed in both communities.

By Amanda Wyatt

Currently, the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have recently begun discussing the possibility of consolidating their school districts.

“It’s a local decision,” the senator said. “I try to take leadership in pushing people to either do consolidation, or at the very minimum, to share services.”

The Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) also remains interested in looking into consolidation and reorganization. President Theresa Samot said the BOE would probably discuss the grant at its next meeting, which was scheduled for Monday night, but was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That meeting has yet to be rescheduled, said Samot.

“We thought [the grant] would certainly be a good first step to see what the opportunities were,” said President Theresa Samot. “The board is certainly in favor of exploring any opportunity that might be valuable to the taxpayers, as well as the students. It’s something that we’ve certainly looked into, wherever we could collaborate to save money.”

Thiele & LaValle Create CPF Advisory Opinions Bureau

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Since its inception in 1998, the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund has raised approximately $757 million, which the five East End towns have used to preserve open space, farmland, historic buildings and places as well as recreational fields. During its tenure as a resource for preservation, the bounds of the CPF have been questioned for concepts like a 2008 proposal between East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor to use CPF funds to preserve Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, which was ultimately deemed a purchase that went beyond the intentions of the law.

The revenue for the fund is derived from a two-percent real estate transfer tax. It expires on December 31, 2030.

Last week, the architects of the CPF, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and New York State Senator Ken LaValle, announced they have created a Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund Advisory Opinions Bureau in an effort to have a specific group ensure the effective and consistent administration of the fund.

The 11-member bureau will also provide legal opinions and interpretations regarding any questions that are raised about how the five East End towns — East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Southampton, Shelter Island and Riverhead — are expending their CPF monies.

A representative from each of the five towns, appointed by the town supervisor, will serve on the board as will a representative from each of the East End villages. Thiele and LaValle will also appoint five members of the public at large.

“This Advisory Bureau will institute oversight measures to help protect the integrity of the Community Preservation Fund,” said Thiele. “The Peconic Bay Region taxpayers and communities deserve to know that the Fund is being implemented appropriately and consistently throughout the region.”

“Transparency and accountability to taxpayers is essential to the fund’s continued success,” said Senator LaValle.

A Wharf Shop at the Heart of Sag Harbor

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For nearly 45 years, The Wharf Shop has stood at the heart of Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Many things have changed since Nada Barry opened the doors in 1968, but not the philosophy of the shop.

“It’s about this community,” says Barry. “As long as we can pay our staff enough to live here, and the shop can economically survive, it’s not about the bottom line. I could have rented this place to a bank and made a lot more money. It’s not about that.”

Barry, who is a member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and helped to create the web sitewww.sagharborkids.org, believes Sag Harbor needs a place that offers kids toys that are both educational and built to last.

“We spend quite a bit of time picking out items,” she says. “A lot of teachers come in here to supplement their curriculum. We weed through masses of books. We educate people from birth to 106.”

And it isn’t just the toys and books that make up The Wharf Shop’s business. So much of what the place offers is about the identity of Sag Harbor itself, which is one reason the store gets a major bump in business over HarborFest weekend. Barry said people come there looking to capture the essence of Sag Harbor as it was, and as it is.

“We try to have a lot of seafaring and whale-inspired merchandise for people who remember Sag Harbor as a whaling village,” says Gwen Waddington, co-owner of the store and Nada’s daughter. “We have more people coming in to buy whale pocketbooks and wallets as well as cast-iron whales and whale door knockers.”

The store also carries handcrafted wooden whales, created by longtime Wharf Shop employee Dede O’Connell. They have an extensive line of wooden replicas of familiar local landmarks, done by the Cat’s Meow, an Ohio-based company.

“We have the movie theatre, The Sag Harbor Express and we just got the windmill back,” says Waddington.  “Now on the back it acknowledges that the windmill has been named for John Ward, who helped to build it. We’re waiting for the newest, which will be Marty’s barber shop as a tribute to Marty.”

Waddington notes the bump that HarborFest is expected to bring will be particularly welcome after a summer that looked busier than it was.

“There seemed to be many more people,” says Waddington, “but they weren’t necessarily spending a lot of money. As far as people’s spending habits, I think they’ve become a lot more frugal since 2008. I think in the last two years it’s hit here more than it had before.”

At a time when people are suffering financially, Barry and Waddington know it’s important for a small Main Street business to be original and reliable.

“We just try to provide the best customer service we can and keep customers coming back when there’s a need,” says Waddington, “and to provide their special requests as well… People don’t want a generic town, and they don’t want a generic shop.”

To that end, The Wharf Shop is all about attention to the customer. This comes not just from the owners, but from all the employees. And that’s important to Barry.

“Our atmosphere is very much a family,” she says. “It’s a community unto itself. Our staff is extremely supportive and they work hard serving the customers. We are there for our staff in times of trouble and in good times, and that’s a basic philosophy.”

Barry also prides herself on educating the young people of the community in a business-sense.

“We’ve trained over 100 students for their first jobs,” she says. “We give them a groundwork of how to be good workers. We have them come back — lawyers and doctors and mothers now.”

The purpose of The Wharf Shop, according to its owners, is not to take from the community, but to add to it.

“We represent the old as well as being contemporary,” says Waddington. “We come to work to contribute to the community.”

The Wharf Shop (725-0420) is at 69A Main Street, Sag Harbor.


The Culture of Generosity

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In this wealthy community of lavish parties, high profile people, over-sized houses, and over-priced almost everything else, it’s encouraging to learn about another affordable housing complex being built.

By November 2012, St. Michaels Housing complex in Amagansett, a 40 unit affordable housing project, paid for with HUD funds and property sold by Amagansett’s St. Michaels Lutheran Church (at way below market value), will be up and running.

When I passed St. Michaels church and the neighboring construction site, I noticed how practical the site was: a clinic and gym will be within walking distance; as will the grocery across the street, and the small Amagansett post office. A crosswalk, newly completed on 27, will enable the residents to get from the complex to the other side of the road without risking life and limb.

I wanted to know who qualified, how it came about, who was responsible. So I called St. Michaels pastor, Katrina Foster, who agreed to meet with me and give me the facts.

“How will I know you?” I asked when we set a date and place.

“I’ll look like a pastor” she said, but when she came in the door to the restaurant she looked only young. And happy. She and her very pretty nine-year old daughter Zoia sat down to talk with me. Her daughter immediately pulled out a book and I imagined Zoia was used to her mother giving up her time for other people.

“A single person,” Pastor Foster said, “who can make no more than $36,000, qualifies; $46,000 for a couple. They pay 30 percent of their income for the yearly rental. If they have medical expenses, the 30 percent they pay is after medical expenses are deducted. There’s a lottery of 100 people and we draw 40 people from the lottery based on, one, the homeless (and that constitutes anyone living on someone’s couch or in their car; it really MEANS homeless), two, disabled people and, three, people with the lowest income.

“The minimum age is 62,” she continued. “The 40 people can be from anywhere — from Alaska or anywhere and they don’t have to belong to our church or any church. They don’t have to meet all three criteria, but highest priority is given to homeless first, then disabled and lowest income. An able-bodied person or couple who have a home and are not disabled and who fall within the income guidelines will qualify, but priority is given to those most vulnerable. There’ll be a superintendent at the complex and we’ll also have a 3500 square foot community center for not only the residents but the whole community.”

“All of this,” she said “is for people who have given to their communities as fishermen or teachers, service people; anyone not in a position to stay because they’re unable to find affordable housing. Now St. Michaels will be able to provide such a place, as Whalebone and Windmill Villages One and Two already do.”

“Under the radar,” she said, “is a whole way of life in which people look out for other people. For people who are old, infirm, and without means. It has to do with what it means to live a religious life; it’s a culture of generosity. People donate money or their time; they volunteer to make meals. St. Michaels sold five acres of its land at way below fair market value for this project.”

She told me that Michael de Sario (president of the housing board that secured funding) and Gerry Mooney (a member of St. Michaels and manager of the other existing affordable housing complexes) kept the project going for the ten years it took. But this involved lots and lots of people who never gave up.

“None of us ever gave up and sometimes it was rough going.”

Then she asked if I knew the parable of The Insistent Widow. When it was clear I didn’t, she explained that it involved a judge and a widow in the same town.

“The widow went to the judge asking for justice and help but the judge refused her,” the pastor said. “The widow went back day after day after day. She never gave up. Finally the judge gave in. That’s what we do. We never give up. We just keep working until things get done.”

Before coming here, Pastor Foster was pastor in the Bronx for 16 years where she earned the Bronx Borough President’s Citation of Merit in 2000 and 2004, and was awarded the NAACP’s Women Who Make a Difference Award in 2001. She began serving Incarnation and St. Michaels Lutheran churches in the Hamptons Lutheran Parish on the East End in 2010 when she was told there was a spot in Amagansett where she could be useful.

“I’m here with my wife and our daughter and an array of animals,” she said.

“What do you do when you’re not serving your congregation and everyone who needs help?” I ask…. “IF and WHEN you ever have free time?”

“We go to the beach” she says. “Zoia loves the beach. All three of us, and one dog, love the beach.”

Finding the Lost Ladybugs

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Heller_Lost Ladybug Project Amagansett 7-10-12_8530

By Amanda Wyatt

From the most avid nature lovers to the biggest city slickers and couch potatoes, nearly everyone likes ladybugs. But recently, a group of researchers, preservationists and local citizen-scientists have taken their appreciation for the “ladies in red” to a new level.

Led by a team from Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug Project and the Peconic Land Trust, these enthusiasts gathered at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett on July 10 to document and collect various species of ladybugs.

The project, which is based out of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, researches and examines the changes in the ladybug population across the United States.

In particular, researchers and participants were eager to find the rare nine-spotted ladybug (coccinella novemnotata), which they collected in glass vials to take back to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.

Although it’s currently difficult to find, the nine-spotted ladybug is actually the official insect of New York State.

“It was named our state insect because it was once so common and considered so important for agriculture,” said Dr. John Losey, a Cornell professor and the director of the Lost Ladybug Project. “The problem is, by the time it was named, it had already started to decline.”

In fact, New York State went 29 years without seeing a nine-spotted ladybug, and researchers believed it to be locally extinct. But while organizing a search for native ladybugs at Quail Hill in 2011, Peter Priolo struck gold — or red.

“I wasn’t looking for the nine-spotted,” Priolo said. “I was, of course, hoping we’d find one, but I just wanted to find native ladybugs. I knew [Quail Hill] would be a hotspot for biodiversity because it’s an organic farm and their planting methods are very diverse.”

Priolo, who had previously interned with the Peconic Land Trust, was already familiar with the Lost Ladybug Project. He took a photo of a ladybug he found in 2011 and sent it to Dr. Losey, who confirmed that it was a nine-spotted. Soon, he learned that his discovery marked not only the first sighting in decades of the nine-spotted ladybug in New York, but one of the first in the entire Eastern U.S.

A science enthusiast since childhood, Priolo was excited to be involved in the project.

“I just do this for fun, and to fulfill that young science boy inside of me,” he said.

There are over 5,000 species of ladybugs across the globe, roughly 500 of which are indigenous to North America. However, the diversity within the ladybug population has greatly decreased over recent decades, and a number of species have become endangered.

“What we’re going from is a really diverse group of native ladybugs to a much less diverse group of foreign ladybugs, dominated by the seven-spot and the Asian, multicolored one,” said Dr. Losey. “We want to know what happened to the nine-spot and if we can turn that around. We fear that if we get totally dominated by just a few kinds, the ladybugs might not be able to do their job as well for us as they have in the past.”

Priolo, who has his bachelor’s degree in ecology, agreed that maintaining a wide variety of ladybugs was crucial. “The more biodiversity there is, the healthier it is,” he explained.

According to Dr. Leslie Allee, an entomologist at Cornell, ladybugs are one of nature’s best pesticides. Ladybugs prey on soft-bodied pests like aphids, who otherwise suck the sap out of leaves—essentially destroying farm plants and orchard trees. They also eat the eggs of scales, including mealy-bugs, and various other pests.

“The bottom line is that ladybugs help us grow food with fewer pesticides,” Dr. Allee said. “So ladybugs directly impact the amount of pesticides that are needed on many crops that we eat.”

She continued, saying that anyone “who’s concerned about getting wholesome, clean food with as few pesticides as possible should also be concerned about the fate of ladybugs. If we didn’t have ladybugs, we’d have to use many more pesticides and organic agriculture would really be in danger.”

“Every ladybug does its job a little bit differently in terms of eating pests,” Dr. Losey added. “So what works best for pest suppression is to have lots of different kinds all doing their thing in different ways.”

The Lost Ladybug Project, which was founded by Dr. Losey in the early 2000s, was originally intended to be a small-scale, local initiative. But after receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, they were able to expand their efforts. This led to media coverage, and the project quickly took off from there.

“We had thought we were just going to work in New York, as well as with some collaborators in South Dakota, and build it slowly,” Dr. Allee recalls. “But we got so much press that people from all over the country became interested, so we had to really scurry and grow the project quickly.”

In fact, citizen-scientists from all 50 states, as well as several Canadian provinces and Mexican states, have submitted their own photos and other research to the project.

According to Kathleen Kennedy, outreach manager for the Peconic Land Trust, researchers from the Lost Ladybug Project will be back at Quail Hill in a few weeks. Their next visit is scheduled for July 31, 2012.

Kennedy hopes that that the project will keep gaining momentum. “I think it would be great to do this as an annual event,” she said, adding: “Hopefully, we’ll have more and more people aware, and more and more ladybug colonies.”

Photography by Michael Heller