Without a word of discussion after a brief public hearing, the Shelter Island Town Board voted unanimously Friday afternoon to extend the deadline to July 15 for the Irrigation Committee to file a final report. That moves the Town Board decision on whether or not to implement a ban on automatic irrigation systems from this spring to December 31.
The Irrigation Committee that has been studying the issue of implementing or abandoning the ban since last September asked for the extension so it can include results of a second round of updated field tests in its final report due to be conducted in May. Had the committee been held to its original deadline, a ban could have been imposed this spring. Extending the date until mid July and then giving the Town Board until December 31 to make its decision means if the ban is imposed, there would be several months for Islanders to comply by the spring of 2015.
But Hay Beach resident Gordon Gooding wondered why the Town Board waited until late last summer to impose a moratorium on the ban that was to have taken effect September 1, 2013. The law that included the ban was passed in 2003, giving residents 10 years to adjust to its implementation. The thinking at the time was that those who had invested in the systems would have at least 10 years of use to amortize their investments before having to stop using them altogether. During that 10 years, no new systems were allowed, nor were residents allowed to upgrade existing systems.
Only 109 users filed the necessary paperwork with the Building Department. The Irrigation Committee has estimated there may be 200 or more systems operating on the Island, many of them without necessary permits. The only operation of the systems that was to be allowed under the ban would be for establishing newly seeded lawns or portions of lawns or new plantings and then only during certain hours.
What would remain exempt under the law would be golf course tees and greens and irrigated fairways that existed prior to the ban and agricultural production areas, including nurseries.
It was only last August, with the implementation date looming, that residents packed the Town Board chamber, most to request a study they believed would show that new technology related to the systems and other circumstances have changed that could merit dropping the ban.
Friday afternoon, Steve Koller also wondered why, when people had 10 years to ask for a change to the law, they waited until “the 11th hour. This is their problem,” Mr. Koller said. They could have asked for a study five, three or even two years ago, he said.
He encouraged the Town Board to “err on the side of conservatism” and implement the ban that could always be changed should information be forthcoming that merits reversing course.
“It’s really a water quality issue,” Mr. Gooding said, arguing that it also involves needed upgrades to septic systems. “I’d rather be on the safe side than the risk side,” Mr. Gooding said.
Committee members didn’t want to reach a decision in April that could require a ban this spring and there’s no evidence from its consultant, John Benvegna, that delaying a final decision would adversely impact the aquifer, Councilman Paul Shepherd said.
Noting the concerns the two men had about irrigation systems, Mr. Shepherd told them that they just listed reasons why the issue is so complex, “and now you want us to hurry up.”
The councilman also noted that the Town Board has the ability to impose restrictions on water use should it be deemed necessary this spring or summer.
Councilman Ed Brown said he agreed with Mr. Koller that a study of the ban should have been undertaken long before last summer, but when it came time for the Town Board’s decision on the extension, he cast his vote with his colleagues without further comment.
The Irrigation Committee continues its meetings with a session Thursday, April 3, at 7 p.m.