The way forward, with a look back

COURTESY PHOTO | The town is paddling forward on issues left unresolved in 2012.

Shelter Island powers-that-be successfully tackled a number of issues in 2012, but there are still pending issues left on the table, and various boards have full plates for 2013.

Among items waiting for action are:

• Implementation of the new ban on underground irrigation systems due to take effect on September 1, 2013;

• Possible zoning changes that could affect nonprofits (including Mashomack Preserve and Sylvester Manor) and family compounds;

• School safety and program changes; and

• An effort by fire commissioners and department brass to usher in a spirit of cooperation in the new year.

It’s been 10 years since a previous Town Board passed a resolution that would ban use of all underground irrigation systems not connected to private cisterns, but delaying implementation until the fall of 2013. There’s no active move to repeal the ban, but some have expressed doubts about its necessity.

Water Advisory Council member Walter Richards told his colleagues last fall he thought the 2003 Town Board did its job in limiting the use of automatic underground irrigation systems. Still, he wondered if the ban, intended to protect the Island’s sole-source aquifer, was the wisest course of action. He asked for more scientific data for the WAC to rely on in giving any advice to the Town Board on whether to actually implement the ban or remove it from the calender. He also said he was concerned about how the ban might be enforced.

There are 128 legally licensed underground irrigation systems installed on the Island and about 20 that have no town license, according to Supervisor Jim Dougherty. Most are installed in “the most vulnerable areas” of the Island where drought can lead to saltwater intrusion and wells that fail to deliver potable water, Mr. Dougherty said.

Without inspections, there’s no way to assure that cisterns are being properly used and that they’re doing the job in terms of avoiding the use of groundwater to irrigate lawns and gardens, Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Dougherty, the Town Board’s liaison to the WAC, agreed that the 2003 Town Board — which acted at a time of severe drought and a falling groundwater level — was “visionary in doing what they did.” The current board, he added, is trying to make sure the Island’s water supply remains adequate.

He has been meeting with hydrologist Drew Bennett and offered to include members of the WAC in those meetings. The supervisor said he wants to assure that the Town Board is ready by spring to begin a campaign to remind residents and business owners of the pending ban set to take effect in September.

According to the town code, no permits for new irrigation systems were allowed after the Town Board banned them in 2003, except systems with cisterns fed by off-Island water. All such legally permitted irrigation systems, including those without cisterns that pre-dated the 2003 law, have been allowed to continue in operation to allow owners to amortize their investments. But as of September 1, 2013, no underground irrigation system is allowed except those that were permitted under the 2003 cistern rule.

A draft report written by WAC chairman John Hallman dealing with the planned ban wasn’t made public last fall, but was distributed to WAC members who were invited to comment on it. Members can be expected to make their comments public this winter.

A special committee of Town Board and Planning and Zoning Board members is looking at two over arching zoning issues that could bring changes in 2013. The committee is expected to make recommendations to the Town Board that could affect building on properties owned by nonprofits, such as Mashomack Preserve and Sylvester Manor. The other subject being examined is whether special zoning should be provided on land that makes up family compounds.

In November, the Town Board granted the Nature Conservancy, which runs the Preserve, permission to install an additional house for staff members while stipulating there’s a distinction between a public property and a privately owned parcel.

New legislation, if implemented, would be designed to establish a standing distinction between public and individually owned properties to avoid forcing these lots to be subdivided to accommodate additional structures. The legislation could also apply to the Perlman Music Center and the Passionist Fathers St. Gabe’s Retreat Center.

Related to the nonprofit land structures is the question of how to handle family compounds where owners might have the space, but not automatic zoning clearance to build more than one house. The committee will consider whether to recommend that such properties be considered on an individual basis by the Zoning Board of Appeals or be allowed a specific number of houses based on the size of the lot, or other criteria.

Whatever the special committee recommends, it would fall to the Town Board to make final decisions about what to implement.

The December 14 mass shooting at a Connecticut school weighs heavily on the minds of everyone in the community. Educators and Board of Education members are working with Police Chief Jim Read, to continue struggling with ways to tighten methods for handling visitors to the campus.

It has long been a requirement that all school doors be locked during the day with only the lobby door, attended by a staff member, open for anyone who needs to access the building. But prior to the Christmas break, another step was put in place, using an aide to accompany visitors from the lobby to their destinations within the building.

Other steps that might be implemented remain a subject for discussion, according to Superintendent Michael Hynes.
While safety and security are paramount, that’s not the only issue as the district starts a new year.

Dr. Hynes and academic administrator Jennifer Rylott are working to implement a new state-mandated educator evaluation system aimed at maximizing teachers’ skills to assure that students are getting the best preparation possible to compete for college placements and jobs. Shelter Island teachers have embraced the effort with Teachers Union president Brian Becker pointing out that his members were very much involved with the implementation of the program here.

Another initiative under way is the creation of the school’s Athletes Hall of Fame. A committee of educators and community members is at work collecting nominations for the first group of inductees of former athletes, coaches and others whose sports-related activities have reflected positively on the community. The inductees will be honored with plaques and other sports memorabilia to be displayed in the hallway outside the school gymnasium.

The Shelter Island Fire District initiates a new year tonight, Thursday, January 3, with a 7 p.m. reorganization meeting at the Center Firehouse. While the meeting will focus on selection of a chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners and various routine appointments, what’s critical is how commissioners and fire department brass mend a rift that boiled over in December.

At its December meeting, commission chairman Richard Surozenski called on everyone to work together in a spirit of cooperation.

Fire Chief John D’Amato ended 2012 presenting commissioners with a 10-point list of issues he said he considers critical in the year ahead. They include efforts to become compliant with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements; training for firefighters; repair of the Center Firehouse’s auto generator switch; completion of radio upgrades; and establishment of a long-range budgeting process.

Issues concerning how to handle disciplinary procedures within the department got some attention toward to the end of the year as did the commissioners’ effort to define who is authorized to speak publicly on various matters. A new policy for handling disciplinary procedures was defined in December to authorize action by the chief pending a meeting of the commissioners who, in most cases, would be inclined to uphold the chief’s recommendations, according to Mr. Surozenski.

As for the policy on public comments, any issue involving both the fire district and department should be addressed by representatives of both units together, according to the policy. Issues germane to only one of the entities can be addressed by a spokesman for that entity. But how that policy might play out in the year ahead remains to be seen since there has been no practice of calling a joint news conference and representatives of the district and department have been interviewed separately on various issues.
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