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Committee says no new irrigation systems

JULIE LANE PHOTO |  Irrigation Committee member Robert Grosbard, along with several other colleagues, wants to speed the process of making recommendations to the Town Board.
Irrigation Committee member Robert Grosbard, along with several other colleagues, wants to speed the process of making recommendations to the Town Board.

The ban on new irrigation systems should remain the law.

That’s according to the town’s Irrigation Committee, which met Thursday, May 8 and decided that’s what their recommendation to the Town Board would be in a report they will present in July.

The members were also in agreement that those who currently have the sprinkler systems can’t extend them and they must be updated, providing timers and rain sensors that override the timers during inclement weather.

Also, those who have upgraded systems would have re-certify them annually and pay a fee each year to help offset the costs of enforcing a revised code. This would include a method of auditing water use and inspecting systems on a regular basis to ensure they’re operating efficiently.

The Irrigation Committee was set up in response to a Town Board-imposed moratorium on a law set to kick in last September 1 regulating in-ground sprinkler systems on the Island. Passed originally in 2003, that law banned the installation of new systems to prevent droughts, but grandfathered in systems already in place. The law stipulated that by September 2013 all systems would have to be inoperable. Coming up to the deadline in August 2013, and hearing some heated exchanges, the board voted for the moratorium and to form a committee to further study the issue.

Those general agreements by the committee last week were not arrived at easily. It was clear that several members view their charge differently than Chairman Thom Milton, who is an attorney. Mr. Milton expressed a concern that the Town Board must craft a law that can withstand court challenges.

“Thom, you’re thinking like a lawyer,” said committee member Mary Wilson.

Other members agreed, saying that their charge was to provide recommendations that would protect the Island’s aquifer without trying to guess what a court might uphold.

Much of the discussion dealt with issues previously addressed, without seeming to reach any consensus until Robert Grosbard pushed his colleagues to begin the process of making recommendations to the board.

“At some point, we have to be done,” Ms. Wilson said. “This can’t go on forever. We’re dancing around.”

She argued that whatever restrictions might be implemented should be imposed town wide “because it does affect every one of us. This is a community issue, it’s not a property rights issue.”

Mr. Milton disagreed, saying that data doesn’t support that water quantity problems in some parts of the Island affect other parts. The committee has heard testimony from experts that even if water were to be plentiful in the Center, it wouldn’t benefit those who live in the Rams, Silver Beach or other outlying areas where problems exist.

But if restrictions are imposed on only certain sections, it will increase enforcement difficulties, Ms. Wilson argued. An employee of the building department, Ms. Wilson continued to hammer home the need for some other entity other than her department to be charged with enforcement, saying it is already “beleaguered” with work.

It’s difficult to impose restrictions on some and not all Islanders, said Councilman Paul Shepherd, the Town Board’s liaison to the committee.

Pointing out that the systems that already exist haven’t had any major adverse effect on the aquifer, Walter Richards, a landscaper, said he favors upgrades, not a ban.

After discussing various ideas and finding consensus on just a few, at Ms. Wilson’s suggestion the members agreed that each would compile a memo on what they would like to see the committee recommend and share their ideas via email with one another in an effort to come to a consensus on more recommendations at the next meeting, May 22.

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