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Two major hurdles remain on irrigation report

JULIE LANE PHOTO Once the Irrigation Committee has a final report from consultant John Benvegna, it should be able to resolve remaining open questions in terms of what it recommends to the Town Board, according to member Walter Richards.

According to Irrigation Committee member Walter Richards, above, 0nce the committee has a final report from consultant John Benvegna, it should be able to resolve remaining questions in its recomendation  to the Town Board.

Irrigation Committee members are split on two major issues as they prepare to report their findings and recommendations to the Town Board by mid July.
Should they recommend existing, registered systems  be upgraded to specific standards and allowed to continue or should they ban all systems?

And if they do recommend a ban, should it be townwide or apply only to those low-lying areas where water shortages are, at times, critical such as Silver Beach and the Rams?

For now, it’s unclear how those questions will be resolved.

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 a moratorium on the law and formed a committee to further study the issue.

At Thursday’s meeting of he committee, resident Jim McCann appealed to the memebers not to recommend any ban unless it applies to the entire Island. Either it applies to everybody or nobody, he said.

Committee chairman Thom Milton at the May 22 meeting had suggested that each member write an individual report. That met with resistance from committee member Walter Richards. He acknowledged favoring existing, registered systems to continue as long as they are upgraded with rain sensors and master valves. But once the committee has a final report from consultant John Benvegna of Connecticut-based Leggette, Brashears & Graham, the remaining disagreements might be resolved, he said.

The consulting company has a second round of well tests to undertake during the first week in June.  Mr. Benvegna has promised a final report soon after he receives that data. Meanwhile, a planned June 5 Irrigation Committee has been cancelled and the next meeting is slated for June 19 — providing Mr. Benvegna’s report is completed in time for members to mull its contents.

“We’ve gone well beyond what we all signed on for originally,” Mr. Milton acknowledged, noting that the original plan was for the committee to make a final report to the Town Board by the beginning of February. But that was before committee members opted for two more field tests to upgrade data that was 20 or more years old.

Regulation is the only major part of the committee’s report that still needs to be “hashed out,” Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Milton reviewed a meeting he had with Julie Ben-Susan and Cathy Driscoll of the Heights Property Owners Corporation on how it controls water in that private area of town. The Heights doesn’t use meters, but bases water use charges on the numbers of bathrooms, appliances and other water-gobbling factors a property has.

John Hallman called that method “antique” while committee member Mary Wilson termed it “a crap way to figure it.”

HPOC is considering using meters at some future point, Mr. Milton said.

But for the time being, “They charge by what is needed to supply” a property if it were to be totally occupied year round and run at full tilt, he said.

Committee members also rejected a Hay Beach poll showing that 27 respondents favor a ban on irrigation systems while 11 don’t.

“I don’t really put a lot of stock in a poll,” said Fred Hyatt, expressing the attitude of the committee.

The committee wants more information on practices at the Gardiners Bay Country Club where tees and greens are allowed to be watered with an automatic system that is exempt from the ban. They want to ensure there’s no expansion there or at the Goat Hill golf course, as well as with the farming operation at Sylvester Manor that director Cara Loriz said would be limited to 10 acres.

Any law enacted should state clearly that there can be no expansion of exempted areas, members agreed.

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