Tag Archive | "Ligonee Brook"

Giving the Alewife a Leg Up

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web Fish Ladder 2

By Claire Walla

Alewives are not the most striking variety of fish. Small, narrow and silver-like herring, they are most often pickled before they’re consumed.

But their relevance here on the South Fork is more poignant than simply their role as cuisine.

As Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer explained, alewives are part of the local food chain, providing nourishment for local raccoons and birds, as well as some of the larger aquatic creatures that form the backbone of the fishing industry here on the East End.

An oddity among local fish species, alewives travel through creeks and brooks to get from salt water to fresh water to spawn. But, Havemeyer said, several impediments have made it difficult for the fish to complete this life cycle. So, the Southampton Town Trustees and other environmental organizations are taking steps to help them survive.

Most recently, the trustees’ efforts led to the creation of a “fish ladder” in Alewife Creek, which runs under Noyac Road and into Big Fresh Pond in North Sea.

The project was put together “on a shoe-string budget,” using 60 rocks, purchased for $150, and cement parking blocks the town obtained from an abandoned building site, Havemeyer explained. To create the “ladder” effect, a crew of about a dozen people — including trustees Eric Schultz and Ed Warner, in addition to Chuck Bowman, a consultant from Land Use — placed the rocks in two lines across the creek with small openings in the center, essentially damning up the creek to increase water flow.

Havemeyer added that the design also gives the fish two pools of water in which to rest during their laborious journey upstream.

“It’s been hard for them to get through,” Havemeyer continued, pointing out that in years past water levels have been low.

He went on to explain that many alewives seemed to find it difficult to overcome the lip near the entrance to the tunnel that runs under Noyac Road, and many were also getting stuck behind embankments on either side of the mouth of the tunnel.

Now, Havemeyer said that after only an hour of having the “fish ladder” in place, the water level in the creek had already risen.

“We’re thrilled with the way it turned out,” he said.

Here in Sag Harbor, plans to restore Ligonee Brook will provide similar benefits for the alewife population which travels every spring from Sag Harbor Cove to Long Pond.

Although, as opposed to the North Sea project, which Havemeyer described as the “down-home, grassroots, simple way of doing it,” the Ligonee Brook restoration project is being funded as part of a much larger grant issued by Suffolk County in conjunction with the state and federal governments.

The project was actually approved last January 2011, although project manager Will Bowman of Land Use Ecological Services, Inc. said the details of the project were just recently approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He said he expects to begin the initial phases of the restoration project in the second week of April.

Estuary Program Eyes Ligonee Brook for Restoration

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web_Ligonee Creek 10-19-11_2517

Historically, Ligonee Brook in Sag Harbor has served as a migration path for alewife, a species of herring, and eels, which travel up the brook from Sag Harbor Cove to spawn in the fresh waters of Long Pond.

But in recent years, the lack of consistent water flow has become an issue in the brook. For that reason, the Peconic Estuary Program has earmarked almost $17,000 towards the research, engineering and design of a restored Ligonee Brook in an effort to re-establish the fish populations.

The Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) want to make sure this project — one of five fish path restoration proposals funded by $80,000 in grants secured by Peconic Estuary Program through the New York Department of Environmental Conservation — earns public support. According to FLPG vice-president Sandra Ferguson, one of those projects will ultimately be implemented through another $100,000 grant, and FLPG members want to do everything they can to make sure their project is considered a top priority.

They are so committed to the restoration, last week FLPG president Dai Dayton said that even if the project is not given funding for implementation, armed with the engineering schematics and research developed over the next two years, the organization would seek funding from the Southampton Town Trustees.

“We are going to make this happen,” said Dayton.

Last spring, the Peconic Estuary Program announced that Land Use Ecological Services had won the state bid to develop a comprehensive plan to restore Ligonee Brook and improve fish migration. Dr. Will Bowman will oversee the project, according to Ferguson, and over the next two years will develop and present his proposal for the brook.

The Ligonee Brook Diadromous Fish Passage Restoration will specifically develop a plan to restore drainage water flow, freshwater wetlands and the alewife and eel run at Ligonee Brook.

Other fish passage restoration proposals being developed through the funding are located in Southold, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Riverhead.

On Friday, October 7, Ferguson and FLPG member Priscilla Ciccariello reached out to the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee for its support.

While Ligonee Brook has traditionally served as a migration path for the fish, because of barriers — some natural, but mostly manmade — like the culvert under Brick Kiln Road and debris in the brook, Ferguson noted there is not always sufficient water flow to allow the migration.

“We, as the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, have cleaned the shores and the bed of the brook, we have cared for the creek, but this is an opportunity for a very serious restoration project that will restore the natural flow of the brook,” said Ferguson.

With no guarantees the project will be implemented, Ferguson said FLPG is reaching out to local civic groups and organizations to help raise public awareness about Ligonee Brook and its potential restoration.

“We want every level of government to understand this project has strong community support,” said Ferguson. “We want to be the voice of the Long Pond Greenbelt as this moves forward and we would like you to be with us.”

The CAC agreed to be a vocal organization in support of the project.

According to Ciccariello, one aspect of the Ligonee Brook restoration that makes it a viable contender for financing is that it is a digestible project, that wouldn’t likely take much funding to implement.

“But even if we don’t win that prize we will still have the schematics, which is quite a gift in itself,” she said.

Helping the Alewives

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By Claire Walla

Last month, hundreds of beached alewives washed up along the dry rocky shores of Ligonee Brook, just under the Brick Kiln Road overpass.

And in the continuing effort to conserve environmental sustainability here on the East End, people like Dai Dayton of Friends of the Long Pond Green Belt (FLPGB) are trying to make sure this never happens again.

“The biggest problem is the culverts,” Dayton said, referring to two round tubes that tunnel the water through Ligonee Brook under Brick Kiln Road.

Surrounded by mud and foliage after heavy rains and large-scale snow melt, the mouths of these access points clog easily, which is what many suspect has lead to the veritable alewife massacre that occurred back in April. She added that alewives have historically used Long Pond to spawn, making Ligonee a vital link.

“We want to continue that [cycle],” Dayton added.

Recently, it was announced that environmental consulting company Land Use Ecological Services has won a bid from the state to design a comprehensive plan for Ligonee Brook that would improve fish migration. Though a contract has yet to be signed, Dr. Will Bowman — who will oversee the project — has already explored the Ligonee area.

“I ran out to Ligonee [last month] because I knew I needed to see how the alewife run was doing while the fish were still there,” Bowman said of these “preliminary investigations.”

Bowman cannot discuss the brook in detail until the contract is signed, but he hopes to get the design project underway as soon as possible, ideally in time for next year’s lively school of Long Pond-bound fish.

The root of the effort to save the alewife population here in Sag Harbor stems back to 2009, when Laura Stephenson — who then worked as the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) coordinator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation — oversaw the donation of $80,000 in grant money to five projects in Suffolk County aimed at restoring fish passages. Stephenson left the organization in December 2010 to work for Assemblyman Fred Thiele, but said that in addition to Ligonee Brook, money would also go toward restoring alewife activity at Moore’s Drain in Southold, and other “fish passage restoration” sites in East Hampton, Shelter Island and Riverhead.

“It’s a regional issue,” Stephenson continued. “Their habitats are declining because of pollution and development. We’re so lucky here on the East End to have places like Long Pond — it’s almost 90 acres of fresh water and it’s not developed at all.”

Stephenson added that alewives typically spawn in fresh water, which is why providing easy access to Long Pond via Ligonee Brook is integral to the fish’s longevity.

“If we can get them to spawn, we can save the population not only here [in Sag Harbor], but on the East End,” she said.

Admittedly, Stephenson said efforts to save the sea creature are not exactly laced with culinary motives.

“Some cultures like to eat them,” she noted, but added these rather bony fish are not entirely to her liking. Saving them, she said, “is really just because they’re part of the ecosystem.”

Typically thought of as a bait fish, alewives can be found dangling from hooks at the end of fishing lines, but they are also a natural food source for much of the area’s biggest catch: blue fish, in particular. In other words, eliminate alewives from the food chain, and other fish populations suffer, too.

“It’s like a puzzle,” Stephenson continued. “Take one piece out and it’s not complete.”

At this point, Land Use Ecological Services is on track to draft a plan that would improve alewife access to Long Pond, but the current grant money issued by PEP (which amounts to about $16,000 for Ligonee Brook alone) would only take the project through this first phase in the process. Once the design is complete, Stephenson said it would be up to the town to secure additional monies to implement the construction project, if it’s approved.

Gateway Study to be Expanded

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On November 25, the Town of Southampton decided to expand the study area of Sag Harbor’s Gateway — the area along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike — by adding four residential parcels totaling three acres to the study. Any change in the zoning along the Gateway would ultimately be incorporated into the town of Southampton’s comprehensive plan — a master planning document for the town.
Numerous issues surround the proposed change in zoning for the area which would turn it from highway business (HB) to hamlet office (HO). Those in favor of the change cite traffic and environmental concerns associated with HB zoned parcels and would like to see a less intensive usage along the gateway. Opponents of the change want it to stay highway business because it allows for many different business options along the stretch, which, they argue, was the reason many owners purchased these properties in the first place.
Last week, town planning and development administrator, Jefferson Murphree suggested to the town board that the town close the public hearing so that the study area can be increased and revisited again in January.
“We are just expanding what has already been analyzed,” explained Murphree.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the study included an area of just under eight acres, excluding four property owners to the south. But the new study will include those properties, bringing the total acreage to just over ten.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councilwoman Nancy Graboski asked Murphree if there was a possibility of considering a re-zoning and adding an alternative Planned Development District (PDD) at the Reid’s automotive garage – Reid’s Brothers Inc. The Reid family has been opposed to the re-zoning of the area, which they have said will greatly reduce certain business opportunities for them. A PDD would give the Reids different commercial options for their property.
“The Reid Brothers property is pre-existing non-conforming,” Murphree explained, “They will still have a wide variety of options for business uses.”
He also added that a zone change is very specific and there are already too many PDDs in the area but there may be the possibility of a commercial PDD for the Reid Family.
Town supervisor Linda Kabot Kabot added that this change may be done by the zoning board – when the Reid family decides they want to apply for a different business opportunity.
She added that the Reid family would still have “a lot of rights with the HO overlay.”
At the last public hearing for the Sag Harbor gateway study, Group for the East End’s Jeremy Samuelson brought three large displays that explained what types of businesses can be established under Highway Business, Hamlet Office and what would be allowed under a special exceptions category. This exercise was to show Samuelson’s support for the re-zoning and gave examples for the types of businesses that would be allowed under hamlet office, which he said actually added more opportunities over the current zoning.
Owner of Bay Burger, John Landis, who has spoken at prior public hearings in opposition to the change of zoning spoke again on Tuesday. He told the town board that his business offered more employment opportunities to the area.
“We [Bay Burger] have created some jobs,” said Landis, who added that by removing the HB designation, a number of business opportunities will be lost for the areas at Sag Harbor’s boundaries. “We are removing those business opportunities — removing opportunities for our citizens — those that could continue to live in our environment.”
Landis offered a potential compromise, to make the area Hamlet Commercial, which would continue to allow retail use, whereas the Hamlet Office would not.
“We are losing people,” Landis argued, “People that are not skilled enough to work in an office, that are only able to work in a place like Bay Burger.” He continued that if the area cannot be used in its full advantage then certain types of jobs would be lost.
Kabot answered that the board would like to see, “a nice happy mix of residences with businesses.”
She also noted that the Southampton Town Trustees have taken the responsibility of keeping Ligonee Brook clean and clear. The brook runs adjacent to the area under review and is considered by environmentalists as being an important artery in the creeks and brooks connecting the Long Pond Greenbelt area of Sag Harbor to the ocean in Sagaponack. The trustees took a tour of the brook last month, to determine its ecological importance.
Sag Harbor resident and advocate for the zone change, Pricilla Ciccariello, also argued at Tuesday’s meeting that there would be more possibilities for business use from the zone change.
“There are more under HO for businesses than under HB,” she said and added that with the change, it would provide more opportunity for workforce housing and noted that this is the only area left bordering the village with this type of housing. Ciccariello also told the town board that the zone change was needed in order to preserve the rural character for the entrance to Sag Harbor.
“More importantly,” she added during an interview on Friday, “it needs to be done to protect the environmental value of this area because of the environmental aspects pertaining to Ligonee Brook and the Long Pond Greenbelt area.”
Kabot announced that everyone would be given “another bite at the apple” in January and added “We can’t change the world with the entrance way to Sag Harbor.”

Hashing out the Gateway

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Although the Town of Southampton is busy with budgetary issues, with the November 20 deadline looming for the tentative town budget, board members had time to hear the opinions of residents, experts and neighbors talk about the Sag Harbor Gateway Study.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, members of the community as well as home and business owners in the ‘gateway’ area along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike spoke about their concerns regarding the current zoning, which is Highway Business. The Gateway Study proposes to change the zoning in the area from a highway business to a hamlet office zone.

The first to speak at the hearing was Katherine Reid, proprietor, with her sons, of Reid Brothers, Inc., who said that, although she spoke at the last meeting and said she thought the decision to change the zoning where her property lies was “un-American,” she is still upset. She sold her house in another part of Long Island in 1984 to buy this property in Sag Harbor, she said, because of the potential to make more money if a business was allowed. “I’m being gypped out of my money,” she said on Tuesday.

Sandra Ferguson, of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, told the town board about the importance of protecting Ligonee Brook. She said the brook is part of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a natural system of streams, ponds, and swamps that connects Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. Ferguson said the brook plays an important function for eel and alewives. She also explained that there are wet and dry seasons of the brook, which is why sometimes it looks like it isn’t flowing. Ferguson also gave a report to the board detailing a walk she took through the area with other experts and trustees, that highlighted the wetlands they were speaking about.

Robert Reid, owner of the Reid Brothers, an auto repair business along the Turnpike, said that if something were to change with the zoning, it should be something that should benefit the community as a whole.

“I hope you understand that when you change the zoning, you are taking something away from somebody that is valuable,” he said to the board.

Sag Harbor resident Priscilla Ciccariello argues that there are many environmental aspects, such as being adjacent to the Long Pond Greenbelt, that make the zoning change a concern for other residents. She also said that if the proposed five properties outlined in the gateway study were developed in this area, traffic would increase by 200 percent on the Turnpike.

A neighbor of the Bay Burger, Bette Lacina said that she would also support the change to hamlet office, because if it weren’t changed, Bay Burger could become a nightclub or other loud venue. The restaurant is her next door neighbor and she would prefer it remain a less intrusive business.

John Landis, owner of Bay Burger, said on Tuesday, “When we purchased the property, we did rely on what the zoning was and what we may be able to do in the future.” But he also added, “Couldn’t the gateway study include an addition, a possibility of hamlet office and residential to highway business.” Landis asked about a “bubble approach” a possibility supervisor Linda Kabot said may be feasible, where the town may consider a Planned Development District, (PDD), which would allow for a combination of highway business and hamlet office.

Sag Harbor resident Dean Golden said that he owns two of the four properties that will be surrounded by new zoning. He said his neighbors, the Fabiano family, expressed their interest in the rezoning of the area. But Golden also said he would be a proponent of a car wash, an earlier plan the Reid family had proposed. He said that many ideas proposed for nearby property owned by brothers Pat and Mike Trunzo, which included affordable housing, will also still be allowed under hamlet office, but he said to the board, “what you are doing is fine, but I am concerned for the Reids.”

Jeremy Samuelson, from  Group for the East End, hung up three posters at Tuesday’s meeting showing what would be allowed under hamlet office and what is allowed under highway business. And then he showed what could be allowed under the special exceptions category. Under highway business, he said the town would be walking away from things like taxicab services and mobile home dealers. Allowed under hamlet office are things like, physicians’ offices, dentists, and professional organizations.

After a few other speakers, representing their arguments for or against the study, councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst read a statement by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., saying he would like to support the gateway study.

The meeting was adjourned and will be revisited at a meeting November 25. 

Pondering the Ebb and Flow of Ligonee Brook

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When Southampton Town Trustee President Jon Semlear was a child growing up in Sag Harbor they called Ligonee Brook, also known as Ligonee Creek, Alewive Dreen.

“My whole life they called it the alewive dreen,” he said. “My experience growing up in Sag Harbor was there were always alewives traveling up the stream, particularly on the west side of the [Sag Harbor] turnpike where the stream comes to the road.”

Semlear, fellow Southampton Town Trustees Fred Havemeyer and Edward Warner, Jr., Southampton Town Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea, with photographer and writer Jean Held, members of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, the Group for the East End and the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee in tow, conducted an inspection of Ligonee Brook on Thursday, October 9 to assess its current condition.

In town politics the brook has been caught up in a debate over a proposed Sag Harbor Gateway Study, which, at its core suggests the rezoning of a little over half a dozen properties on the Sag Harbor Turnpike – including land that borders the brook. But for Semlear, and a number of others on the Thursday afternoon ramble, the excursion was more about familiarizing themselves with the brook, its history and about addressing what the trustees can do to ensure the brook’s health.

The brook is a part of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a system of ponds, swamps, streams and woods, which extends from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. The greenbelt includes 30 freshwater ponds, as well as a number of swamp and marsh areas and Sagg Pond, a salt pond that occasionally lets out into the ocean. As Held noted on Wednesday, the Long Pond Greenbelt has a plethora of rare flora and fauna specimens as a result of its delicate ecosystem.

Ligonee Brook is first referenced in New York State records in January of 1803, according to a history of the brook in a record compiled by Held through Southampton Town documents and histories in local newspapers. In New York State records, “legonee creek or brook” is defined as a boundary marker to what the state referred to as the “port of Sagg Harbor.” 

According to Held, while often referred to as Ligonee Creek, Alewive Dreen, the Long Pond Dreen, or the Long Pond Drain, the proper name for the stream is Ligonee Brook, which she notes is what the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation calls the stream.

Throughout old issues of The Sag Harbor Express, the brook, in all its various identities is shown to be the site off great eel catches and alewive sightings, as the migratory species used the brook to travel from Sag Harbor Cove to Long Pond. As early as 1874, in local papers there were calls for Sag Harbor residents to roll up their sleeves and help clear debris – brush and leaves – from the brook during the dry season, as it would accumulate at levels that would block the flow of water during the times of year the water would run.

Whether the brook is still a part of the migratory patterns for alewives and eels has been a debated subject as of late, particularly when discussed in Southampton Town Hall as a part of the Gateway Study. There have also been questions raised as to whether the brook still runs with water, or if it has dried for good.

Robert Reid’s family has owned a parcel of land that now houses Reid Brothers Incorporated, an auto repair shop, for several decades. The Reid property is one of several being considered for re-zoning by the town under the Sag Harbor Gateway Study. For a majority of the parcels looked at in the gateway study, the town’s department of land management suggests a change in zoning from highway business, which allows large commercial enterprises to hamlet office, which would permit only smaller professional offices and retail locations.

Any business, like the Reid Brothers, that is already in place would be considered pre-existing, non-conforming and could operate business as usual even if the business changed hands as long as a change of use was not proposed.

At a Southampton Town Board hearing on the Gateway Study in September, Reid asked the board how Ligonee Brook – cited by a handful of residents and advocates in support of the gateway study – could be a viable breeding ground for a number of species if it was dry.

According to Reid, at one point the brook, which borders his property, was dry for 23 years, although he said it did start to run again when water was pumped from the Rowe Industries Superfund site nearby.

“But it miraculously stopped running this past winter,” said Reid.

Reid also believes the brook may have been man-made, although he said if that was the case it was likely around the time of the first settlement in Sag Harbor.

Held said the brook does run dry, but said it is a part of the natural ebb and flow of the brook, and said as early as last fall the brook was running. Held added outside influences, like the Sag Harbor Water Company which used Long Pond as a water source, did have an effect on the flow of water in the brook, although she said she did not believe the brook ever remained dry for a period as long as 20 years.

“I have no problems with making this creek do what ever we can to make it a real creek,” said Reid on Wednesday, noting his concerns with what have been discussed on the town level have less to do with Ligonee Brook and more specifically lie with what he sees as spot zoning of his family’s property. Reid said he would attend this Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Gateway Study public hearing at Southampton Town Hall.

According to Semlear, the trustees do have every intention of ensuring the brook’s flow is not interrupted by debris or build up of sand.

During the walk on October 9, the brook was in fact dry, although member of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt and trail leader Dai Dayton said she had personally seen the brook flowing last year. The walk, which began at the trail entrance at Mashashimuet Park and ended where Long Pond and the brook meet, was productive, said Semlear, who noted a number of trustees had yet to walk the brook.

“The alewive stream is in pretty good shape,” he said on Wednesday. “There are a few areas where debris should be removed so we can ensure during times of high water [alewives and eels] have the ability to make it up the pond. There is also some areas where we need to clear some sand out of the culvert.”

As a lifelong resident and trustee, Semlear said there were many times he observed the brook dry and many times where he saw it run fully. Regardless, he said, there is no question in his mind that Ligonee Brook is an essential part of the Long Pond Greenbelt as a whole.

“When you remove something from an ecosystem, it sets things out of balance,” said Semlear. “When the creek is running it has a productive, positive influence on the pond and Sag Harbor Cove on the other end. It is definitely a key element in the uniqueness of the Long Pond Greenbelt.”

And, according to Held, it is the ebb and flow of the brook that lends the area to a vast array of rare flora and fauna species, some of which would not be able to survive there if the level of water was constant.

“That is part of what makes them rare,” she said. “And that makes the area very interesting to me.”