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Strong disagreement marks Irrigation Committee meeting

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Irrigation Committee member John Hallman has voiced concerns about the direction and purpose of the committee,

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Irrigation Committee member John Hallman has voiced concerns about the direction and purpose of the committee,

Several Irrigation Committee members believe it is overstepping the bounds of its charge by the Town Board.

Committee members John Hallman and Mary Wilson, plus the Town Board’s liaison to the committee, Councilman Paul Shepherd, see the direction being pursued by chairman Thom Milton as moving off point.

The original brief given to the committee was to make recommendations about whether or not to implement a ban on automatic underground irrigation systems.

But committee member Robert Grosbard defended the approach the committee has taken, which he explained is ensuring the Town Board has information to defend whatever decision it reaches “when people are screaming.”

“We’ll handle the heat,” Mr. Shepherd said referring to himself his Town Board colleagues, referring to any criticisms that might result from the ultimate decision.

“You’re not charged with explaining it to the people,” Mr. Shepherd added in response to earlier statements about the importance of educating the public about quantity and quality of water in the aquifer.

Mr. Shepherd took offense at Mr. Hallman’s statement that the appointment of the committee was “just a ploy” by the Town Board to delay the ban on irrigation systems set to become law in September 2013, but delayed by a Town Board resolution.

Mr. Hallman has steadfastly held that the ban should have been implemented as originally planned. The Irrigation Committee has been “reinventing the wheel” in its six-month to-date exploration, he said. Much of the information needed was already available from the town Water Advisory Committee Mr. Hallman chairs, he said.

He added that a presentation on farming and irrigation practices at Sylvester Manor that Executive Director Cara Loriz provided at the meeting was interesting, but he questioned what it had to do with the committee’s responsibility.

And Ms. Wilson said she thought that some of the detours the committee has taken have consumed time, but not necessarily spoken to the committee’s charge:
• Determine how many irrigation and cistern systems exist on Shelter Island, and map their location;
• Provide information on the most efficient irrigation systems available on the market;
• Identify and summarize existing studies on irrigation use;
• Offer information on the impacts of irrigation on water quantity and quality; and
• Suggest means of enforcement of any new regulations and how such enforcement might be funded.

The committee has already done much of that work and is awaiting results of two new field tests — one done in January and the second scheduled for this spring — to determine chloride levels in test wells throughout the town. Monthly reports of water levels in test wells are something the WAC gets from the United States Geological Survey, but committee members wanted more current information on chloride levels than existed in studies done 20 to 30 years ago.

What it hasn’t yet done is begin compiling its findings into a report for the Town Board, something Mr. Milton has been encouraging. He also indicated that the final report is likely to contain a full committee recommendation, along with individual members’ conclusions that could potentially differ on some issues.

The initial field test results are to be reported by hydrogeologist John Benvegna, the committee’s professional consultant, at a meeting on March 6. And the committee is delaying its final report to the Town Board until mid-July to include the results of the spring field tests.

That would likely mean a September 1, 2014, date by which the Town Board would either implement or waive the irrigation ban. The board could also opt to take other actions to protect the aquifer.

But suggestions from Mr. Milton that the committee also get information on irrigation practices from the Heights Property Owners Corporation and the Gardiner’s Bay and Shelter Island country clubs met with little enthusiasm.

Nor was there an appetite for moving the Saturday, March 1 forum with Cornell Cooperative Extension turf management and pest specialist Tamson Yeh from the Town Hall Board room to the Shelter Island School auditorium.

Ms. Wilson said she thought Mr. Milton was overly optimistic in thinking that residents would overcrowd the room at Town Hall, despite efforts to promote the meeting.

The community has changed a lot, she said. People want to have green lawns and don’t think about how to best achieve that aim or the potential impact of various fertilizers and pesticides. She predicted that about 25 people would attend that Saturday forum at 1 p.m., slated to last about two hours. That’s similar to the number of people who came to a Saturday meeting in October.

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