Committee seeks delay to mid-July to deliver report

JULIE LANE PHOTO | At the recommendation of Chairman Thom Milton, the Irrigation Committee agreed  to ask the Town Board to extend its February deadline for a final report to mid-July.

The town’s Irrigation Committee voted late last week to ask the Shelter Island Town Board to extend until mid-July its due date for a final report on whether a ban on automatic irrigation systems should be implemented.

The committee was initially charged with producing a final report by early February, but with results of updated field studies still outstanding, members agreed they wouldn’t be ready to make sound recommendations now. The vote was 5-0 last Thursday with members John Hallman and Walter Richards absent.

Mr. Hallman has said several times he favors implementing the ban that was contained in 2003 legislation and was originally scheduled to take effect September 1, 2013. That date was extended until May 2014 by the Town Board last August to give the Irrigation Committee time to research new information.

Now the board won’t even have a report from its committee until mid-summer.

Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton also indicated — and other committee members seemed to agree — they may be leaning toward a recommendation that any restrictions the Town Board might impose apply to specific zones rather than the entire town. That’s because of testimony from John Benvegna, who works out of the White Plains office of Connecticut-based consultants Leggette, Brashears & Graham. Mr. Benvegna has pointed out that while there might be problems in the Rams, West Neck, Silver Beach and other low lying areas, those residents aren’t going to be affected by water use by Center residents. Nor are they going to benefit from water not used by Center residents and businesses because it’s not going to reach the low-lying areas.

Whenever a law is passed, “especially one restricting peoples’ rights,” it needs to be based on facts, Mr. Milton said. It’s why the committee has examined information on technology, water quantity and quality and other factors that will affect the final report.

Putting off a decision is not due to the Irrigation Committee being negligent in meeting its responsibilities, Mr. Milton said at the Thursday, January 9 meeting. It was caused by a decision members reached in December to authorize two new field studies of chloride levels in test wells, meaning updated data wouldn’t be available until late spring. The first of the new tests by field agents from Leggette, Brashears & Graham occurred on January 8 and 9 with results expected within two weeks. The second testing is slated for sometime in May or June with results two weeks after completion.

The town pays the United States Geological Survey for monthly water level results in test wells throughout Shelter Island. But those tests show only the level of clean water that exists above a layer of clay. The tests conducted by the town’s consultants will show chloride levels as well as provide information on nitrates and phosphates, Mr. Milton said. The current cost for the tests is $5,000.

Committee members plan to draft their report during the next few months and then review it once they have the second set of test results.
“I would find it hard to sustain a law that doesn’t have more recent data,” Mr. Milton said, explaining why he favored an extension of the date for his committee to file its final report.

Anticipating that the Town Board will approve the request for an extension, the committee will continue meeting on an every other week basis, generally on Thursday nights, but with some meetings being set for Saturdays when weekenders can attend.

Whatever the Town Board decides, it will have to take the seasonal fluctuations into consideration, said  Councilman Paul Shepherd, the board’s liaison to the committee. It’s evident just from the USGS reports that water levels are typically low in fall and winter and the aquifer gets recharged in spring, summer and early fall. At issue is whether there has been a marked change through the years on either the low or recharge levels that would seem to demand restrictions.

Another hint to what the committee might be recommending came in Mr. Milton’s statement pointing out that there’s “human imperfection” in every aspect of water use, whether people are employing an automatic irrigation system or hand watering with a hose or sprinkler.

Assuming the Town Board extends the date for the committee’s final report, the next meeting is slated for January 23 at 7 p.m.