Tag Archive | "Ligonee Creek"

On Their Way Home

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Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.

Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.

By Emily J. Weitz

You don’t hear much about alewife populations on sport-fishing boats in Montauk, and you don’t see alewives on the menu at Sen. These fish are not eaten by humans, so their health and numbers only impacts us in an indirect way. But they are excellent indicators of the overall health of our environment, as they are integral to the survival of many other species.

“It’s like a Jenga game,” says Laura Stephenson, who will be leading an educational hike sponsored by SOFO next week. “You take one out and everything falls. Alewives are one integral part of the ecosystem for the larger fish. They’re food for birds and larger fish, and we use them as bait fish.”

In recent years, environmentalists have become well aware of the importance of alewives, and of their plight.

“It’s a big thing right now,” says Stephenson. “Getting alewives up the river is a hot item in the environmental world.  People are recognizing the dwindling numbers of alewives.”

Alewife restoration projects have had great success in other regions, and currently there is an effort to restore alewives in the Peconic River. The reason for these successes is simple: we know what is standing in the way of a thriving alewife population. It’s us.

“These fish don’t live in our waters,” says Stephenson. “They live in salt water. But they come to fresh water to spawn. They have their babies in the fresh water and then return to the salt water. Then they come back to the place they were born to spawn again.”

This migration traverses hundreds of miles, taking the alewives from their birthplace at Long Pond or another freshwater body all the way up to the northern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine or Canada.

“There are historical records that the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt have found that say there were alewives back in the 1600s and 1700s,” says Stephenson. “Then, when they built the turnpike and the old railroad, it cut off access to Long Pond. The alewives come through Peconic Bay, through Sag Harbor Cove, and they want to make it to Long Pond.”

Some years, they can still make it. When the groundwater is high, like in 2010, after a lot of snow, the alewives can win the uphill battle to Long Pond, said Stephenson.

“But if they have blocked access, they won’t make it back there,” she said. “If they can’t make it back, they can die trying. Last year we saw a lot of deaths as they tried to make it to Ligonee Creek (which leads to Long Pond). The problem is there are so many polluted water bodies and so many bodies that have been cut off, that there is a limited number of good spawning places.”

Long Pond is one of them – Stephenson says it’s one of the few water bodies of its kind.

“Surrounded by undeveloped land, pristine, with great water quality,” she says. “We’ve got a lot going for us here.”

One of the best things we have going is that, even though there are obstacles to the restoration of alewives at Ligonee Creek and Long Pond, these obstacles are surmountable.

“Ligonee is a great case,” says Stephenson. “There are a lot of small problems that need fixing. There are little culverts that need to be fixed and replaced. Ligonee has two or three undersized culverts leading up to Long Pond.”

If these culverts were replaced by larger ones, the alewives could get through.

“When the roads were put in,” says Stephenson, “they didn’t think about the fish. They wanted to move the water under the road, so they put in whatever would work best to move the water fastest without thinking about the fish.”

Another issue is the height issue: the fish can’t get up into the freshwater bodies.

“If we build a rock ramp with resting pools, these fish will be able to get up. Anything higher than six inches, they can’t make it.”

At the hike this weekend, Stephenson will take participants past Ligonee Creek right at the time they are making their migration. They will probably see the fish not being able to make it over, and Stephenspon hopes this will raise awareness about the plight of the alewives.

“These fish travel so far,” she says. “And their life span is so short. They come back to where they were born to spawn, and if they don’t have that opportunity, it’s a waste of the species.”

Laura Stephenson will lead a hike past Ligonee Creek to discuss alewives on Saturday, April 14. Meet at 10 a.m. at SOFO.

Something Fishy: Hundres of Alewives High and Dry

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Heller_Dead Fish in Ligonee Creek_0152

By Claire Walla

The first thing you’d notice is the smell.

Last week, the small stretch of Brick Kiln Road that passes over Ligonee Brook in Sag Harbor gave off a stultifying scent as pungent as a sushi shop in August without central air.

It caught Richard Sawyer off guard.

“I never would have noticed it if I was driving,” Sawyer said. But last Tuesday, April 19, Sawyer had dropped his auto off at the Getty station and was forced to stroll home en plein air. After investigating the stench, he stumbled on something quite strange.

“I had never seen so many dead fish before in my life!” he exclaimed over the phone.

Peering over the edge of the road and into the shallow creek bed, last week one could have seen hundreds of lifeless fish lying immobile in the mostly dry creek.

As of last Thursday, the scaly creatures were still relatively whole, although many were decapitated.

“They weren’t yesterday,” said Fred Werner, who was passing through the area last Thursday, April 21 on his habitual midday commute back to his home in Noyac from the Sag Harbor Post Office.

“Yesterday, they were all in one piece,” he exclaimed. “They looked like they had just lain down and died.”

Larry Penny of the East Hampton natural resources department said the situation peaked his interest, although he had no prior knowledge of the fish.

“I noticed something funny there when we got that big rain,” Penny said of the downpour that drenched the village April 17. “The water was up over the road.”

While on the phone, Penny checked the notebook in which he records rainfall measurements and said he recorded two inches of precipitation that Sunday.

According to Penny, and according to Fred Werner’s son, Alex (an avid Sag Harbor-based fishermen), the carcasses in question are almost certainly alewives, which are typically seen in their greatest numbers mid-April.

Penny explained that alewives seek fresh water in order to spawn, which might explain why they were in Ligonee Brook, a tributary of fresh-water-basin Long Pond. Because of record rainfalls last year, Penny said the fish — typically concentrated in the North Sea area — were actually found in Long Pond last year.

“They have to spawn in fresh water, and then they have to leave. It’s conceivable that they had spawned and were leaving,” Penny said. But, he added, it’s more likely the alewives were still on their way in when water levels dropped and they met their demise.

“It can happen real quick,” he said of the drainage.

Though from the looks of it, such a massacre may seem to indicate all is not well for the alewife population, but Alex Werner believes the contrary to be true.

“Having a school of alewives in [Sag Harbor] Bay is good,” Werner said, because alewives are typically prey for bigger, more coveted fish for local anglers.

“It means the bigger fish are right behind them,” he added. “It’s the first sign of spring.”

Letters December 18

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Understanding Costs of Education


Dear Editor,

Some weeks ago you published an article submitted by Jo Rizzo called “Cut School Budget Now.”

In the article she questions the salary and benefits of the elementary school librarian and requests that the budget be cut by 10 percent, mainly through staff downsizing, teachers contributions toward their benefits and eliminating other peripheral costs. She cites Manorville’s staff reduction of 18 people and feels Sag Harbor should follow suit. She opposes the automatic step increases the teachers receive annually and appears to give an accurate report on the economic conditions and the effort by both the public and private sectors to cut costs.

You may not agree with Jo Rizzo’s opinions, but her views are shared by a substantial amount of people in the community. In particular, her feelings on automatic step increases are a very sensitive issue in the community.

The following week her letter was answered by the co-presidents of the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA in a letter to the editor called “Responsible to Support School.” This letter defended the salary and the benefits of the elementary school librarian, citing her education and years of dedication to the job. The article went on to point out the exceptional staff and wonderful programs we have which provide us with an outstanding school system. By example, it refers to families moving to Sag Harbor to take advantage of our schools, people outside the district paying to send their children here, and the outstanding AP scores achieved in this district as contrasted to all other school districts on the east end.

I feel that both letters stretch a few points to make their case.

In the letter from the PTA leaders they claim smaller class sizes generate savings, “Because it creates an early intervention opportunity that actually has proven to decrease the percentage of students who require classifications and additional services.”

We should be very concerned at all times wit the well- being of our children. However, if this sensitivity to their behavior lends itself to justify even smaller classes, in order for the teaching staff to observe the students in more detail and suggest early intervention, then should not this concern be met with an increased staff of psychologists, to observe student activity at a classroom level?

Jo Rizzo states in her letter that “It is time for the board to offer a retirement incentive to the staff who are eligible to retire and to those who are not doing a good job and there to collect a paycheck. Not every job should be filled. Those who will be hired should be younger educators who really have the spunk and desire to do a good job. Etc, etc…”

This is the simplification of a complicated downsizing project.

I have never met Jo Rizzo and have never been introduced to PTA leadership, although I have been active in the school district and have attended a majority of the board of education meetings over the last eight months. It is a shame to see well-intended people so far apart with clashing opinions on important issues. Only a better understanding of each other’s position can minimize the delta difference that exists between them.

That’s what open agendas and transparency are all about!

It would have been great if the PTA leaders had answered Ms. Rizzo by offering benchmark the librarian’s position against that position in a few other district libraries. Not by considering salary and benefits alone, but also reviewing the scope of work, duties and responsibilities. It may well be that our librarian teaches the children research skills and guides the children offering significant value to their educational process.

Ms. Rizzo should be informed of the union’s role in participating in the staffing of teachers, influencing programs and all changes and revisions in staffing. I have heard of programs offering retirement incentive to senior teachers, with potential replacement being strongly influenced by the union. In addition forced downsizing may have the union take the position of a “last in, first out” policy, which would take the junior members of the teaching staff out of their jobs. There are state regulations and union policy which would have to be considered in any downsizing. This would make the retention of the best possible staff very difficult. You can’t blame the union for positions they adopt. Their objective is to recognize seniority and time of service, inbeing fair to all members. I have heard this seniority policy is reinforced by the state.

In any case, if the PTA and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) were to apply their resources they could come up with a published document that would explain in detail the role of the Union in the staffing efforts of the school district.

This would be a giant step forward in bringing a real transparency of the district’s operation to the entire community.

In conclusion, I would suggest the entire community make a serious effort to understand their quality-driven educational system in Sag Harbor. The board of education meets biweekly on Monday evenings. The meetings and the issues they discuss are important and enlightening to all who attend. The PTA report at these meetings is given with feeling, energy and an obvious compassion for the students and the staff they represent. I do not agree with everything that the PTA leadership requests, but no one attending any one of these meetings can do anything, but respect and admire their loyalty and passion to their cause.

I would be pleased to be introduced to Jo Rizzo at one of these meetings.


Ed Drohan



Greater Than Pie


Dear Bryan,

I was so happy to read in the Sag Harbor Express that the youth group is still making pies! I worked with Denny Boyle on the first pie-baking marathon. That was about ten years ago when my sons were in the youth group along with Denny’s daughter Erin. We all had so much fun! Here is a little know fact, many years ago my Mother Felice McMahon started the food pantry in a closet up stairs at the Presbyterian Church. The Food Pantry has now grown to be a viable part of the Sag Harbor Community. I don’t live in Sag Harbor anymore but from time to time I do read it on line. So I wanted to let Denny know what a wonderful person he is, in continuing to work with the youth group of Sag Harbor all these years. This is something that the young folks with take with them when they leave Sag Harbor. It instills in them a sense of community and to know what a great feeling it is to help others in need even if it’s a pie at Thanksgiving. No matter how big or how small a gift is, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that the person receiving it is so grateful for your thoughtfulness and kindness.

Being kind is contagious. It spreads like wildfire; so continue baking! Merry Christmas to Denny and his family and to all of Sag Harbor.


Becky Vilardi (Wolfram)

Vero Beach Florida


There is a Light


To the Editor,

In this season many believe there is a light that darkness shall overcome. I offer just one candle…

Martti Ahtisaari, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Wednesday that President Elect Barack Obama should  move quickly to try to resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

“The credibility of the whole international community is at stake,” said Mr. Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and a veteran United Nations mediator. “We cannot go on year after year, simply pretending to do something to help the situation in the Middle East. We must also get results.”

He urged Mr. Obama to give the region high priority his first year in office. There is light.

In peace,

Larry Darcy

North Haven


Brook or Slade?


Dear Bryan, 

I have followed with interest your coverage of the Sag Harbor gateway hearings and find myself perplexed by comments made by Jeremy Samuelson of the Group for the East End regarding the Long Pond Greenbelt’s ecology, specifically those comments concerning Ligonee “brook.” I must disagree with Mr. Samuelson’s description of the area as one of the “single most significant natural resources in the state.” On the contrary, it has been well marked by the industry of local inhabitants over hundreds of years. The “brook” itself is of unnatural origin with the surrounding area containing little, if any, of its original vegetation. At the height of Sag Harbor’s industrial period that site along with most of the East End was clear-cut to provide fuel for the local works. After the supply at hand was exhausted, firewood was imported from Connecticut to meet Sag Harbor’s needs. 

More worrisome, however, is Mr. Samuelson’s assertion that the “brook” is the sole drainage out of the Long Pond Greenbelt. His claim is not supported by the currently accepted hydrological model of the area. Upwards of 30 percent of the recharge water (mostly rainfall) entering the Greenbelt north of Crooked Pond flows through the Magothy and upper glacial aquifers into Sag Harbor cove. Forty percent of this discharge has flowed entirely within the upper glacial aquifer at an average speed of 200 feet per day. The water we see in the Greenbelt ponds is the exposed surface of that aquifer. (South of Crooked Pond, the flow is to Mecox Bay and the ocean.) 

Ligonee Brook’s periodic flow pales in volume when compared to that of the aquifer coursing beneath our feet. 

The name Ligonee was originally applied to a wetlands, now lost to dredging, that extended from the mouth of the “brook” to just beyond Ligonee Bridge Lane, a path that ran between Noyac Road and what is now Morris Cove Road. This is the place noted in 19th century editions of the Express to be the site of great eel and alewife catches. The name Ligonee is not of aboriginal origin but a corruption of “Leg and Knee,” an apt name for a swamp (William Wallace Tooker, The Indian Place Names on Long Island and Islands Adjacent, 1911). 

Tooker also notes that the “brook” was “not natural but dug by fishermen,” quoting a reference in the Records of the Town of Southampton, page 192, book 2 wherein it is described as a “slade.” To the earliest English settlers here, a slade was a dry watercourse. Ligonee “brook” is a slade dug by settlers to increase the flow of fresh water into Ligonee Swamp in the hope that it would attract large runs of alewives. This was commonly done on Long Island and in coastal Massachusetts (whence Southampton’s first settlers came). Other local examples include the cuts at Otter Pond ca. 1729 and at Georgica and Sagg Ponds. As the cuts into the latter two were not permanent, the Town Trustees were obliged to open the ponds to the sea for the spring spawning runs of anadromous fish species like alewives.

These slades and openings were not novel. The technology can be traced back along the migration paths of the early settlers of Southampton, first to the area around Lynn, Massachusetts, then to East Anglia where the English, using methods adopted from the Dutch, had drained much of their wetlands for agricultural use by the end of the 17th century. 

The “brook” is not a natural feature and may well add to the flow of contaminants, commonly found in storm water run-off, to Sag Harbor Cove. This is very similar to the situation with the storm water “dreen” at Haven’s Beach. In both cases, in an effort to control runoff, we end up speeding the delivery of contaminants to the surrounding marine waters. Given this, perhaps the most environmentally positive thing to do with the “brook” would be to return it to its natural state by filling it in.

Best regards,

Bill Brauninger

North Haven