Irrigation law suspended, could be up to eight months

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | The Town board passed a resolution imposing an eight month moratorium on an irrigation law scheduled to start September 1.

The Town Board Friday unanimously passed a resolution to suspend a law slated to kick in September 1 banning the use of underground irrigation systems until May 1, 2014. The board also set a public hearing on the matter for August 9.

The local law, passed in September 2013 when the town was in a water emergency, banned the installation of all new sprinkler systems to protect the quantity and quality of water in Shelter Island’s aquifer. But the law allowed those already in use to remain for 10 years. That “sunset” provision was coming due September 1 when the existing systems would be seriously restricted on water use.

At last Tuesday’s Town Board work session, several people, including landscapers, called for the law to be repealed. The board instead decided on a moratorium to analyze the law and what has changed in 10 years relating to the Island’s water resources and new irrigation technology that some have said operates sprinklers more efficiently.

Before Friday’s vote, Councilman Peter Reich asked for a discussion, noting that he had been in favor of a six-month moratorium and not eight months “to keep our feet to the fire” to come to a solution. He added that there are always excuses to delay action. He agreed to go along with his colleagues on the eight month time period but suggested that the irrigation law be a featured item on upcoming work sessions throughout the moratorium.

During the pubic comment part of the meeting, resident Bob Cacciola said he was outraged that the board had listened to a few people, including landscapers, on Tuesday and voted on a moratorium just three days later.

“Is that the way to stop what we already passed as a town, a law I waited 10 years for?” Mr. Cacciola asked. “And some landscapers show up among about 12 people and this is the result?”

Supervisor Jim Dougherty responded that the board hadn’t changed the law. It had set a public hearing on “whether we should. And if we don’t the law goes into effect September 1.”

Mr. Reich weighed in, saying  “personally I think at this time the law should go into effect September 1.” He added that he knew there wasn’t a true sampling of opinion at Tuesday’s work session.

Mr. Cacciola said the board’s action was “absurd … It makes the whole process of what we did 10 years ago almost senseless. The next law we pass we can say, ‘Maybe we will and maybe we won’t.”

He believed the board wasn’t taking the water situation seriously, saying the situation boiled down to a case of “drinking water or green lawns.”

Both Councilmen Paul Shepherd and Ed Brown — who had started asking for a discussion of the law last August — said more discussion was necessary, citing the new technology issue and that the aquifer might have improved because of periods of rain in 10 years. They also said a cooling off period might allow the board to “improve” the existing law.

Mr. Dougherty added that no matter what happened with the law, the board had the right to declare an emergency to shut down all irrigation systems.