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Irrigation Committee poised to report to Town Board

JULIE LANE PHOTO Irrigation Committee chairman Thom Milton praises committee members as they wind up their work and prepare to submit a final report to the Town Board.
Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton praises committee members as they wind up their work and prepare to submit a final report to the Town Board.

There were compliments all around Thursday night as the eight-month-old Irrigation Committee completed its Town Board charge and prepared to recommend that existing automatic underground irrigation systems be allowed if upgraded.

Through the months of investigating, wrangling and ultimately reaching compromises, the committee on Tuesday, July 16 will provide a consensus report to the Town Board, while acknowledging there are a few areas where compromises couldn’t be reached.

Ultimately, it will fall to the Town Board, after holding its own public meetings on the subject, to determine what legislation to enact by year’s end.

One of the biggest and now, apparently, unresolved issues, is whether all regulations proposed should apply Island-wide or only in sensitive areas — essentially in the Near Shore and Peninsula Districts.

“We’re trying to make regulations for everyone where the problem doesn’t pertain to everyone,” Committee Chairman Thom Milton said. “I tend to think less is more when it comes to regulation.”

“You have to come up with something that will work without choking people,” said Councilman Paul Shepherd, liaison from the Town Board to the committee. He tends to favor only vitally necessary regulations and not burden property owners when unnecessary.

Another major area that the Town Board will have to work out is how to enforce any regulations it decides to impose.

Committee member Walter Richards prefers offering incentives to gain compliance, but his colleagues believe that won’t be effective.

An earlier idea about hiring a summer employee to inspect systems to ensure they’re in compliance met with skepticism, as John Hallman told the others that an inspector would have to know what he’s doing and that hiring a student for part-time summer work wouldn’t be the route to go. He also said he thought an inspector would be needed for more than just three or four summer months.

It would also fall to the Town Board to set fees for permits to operate systems and cisterns and to set fines for violating regulations.

Consensus has been reached on the following:

• The existing 109 systems that hold town permits should be allowed to be used providing owners upgrade them, installing time clocks, flow meters, particle count meters, rain sensors, master valves and backup batteries.

• The 14 known cisterns in use on the Island will be permitted to be used, but the committee will recommend that the Town Board identify some way to audit them to ensure they’re filled with trucked-in water and refilled with water that runs off roofs or paved surfaces.

No cistern should be refilled from well water. Under current town law, residents haven’t been allowed to collect runoff water, but the committee’s consulting hydrogeologist  John Benvegna’s report shows  such water only evaporates if it’s not used to replenish cisterns.

• If the Town Board allows new irrigation systems to be installed, they must have cisterns, but just how that might be regulated will again fall to the Town Board to decide.

• No use of soaker hoses should be allowed because they’re inefficient in terms of water use.

• Drip irrigation systems should be encouraged for their efficiency, but whether they should have town permits remains unresolved.

“We’re creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist,” Chairman  Milton said about small drip systems that may be in use by some property owners.

Committee members were expected to continue to circulate the draft report to one another for polishing  before they present it to the Town Board Tuesday. It’s expected that the report will reflect only areas of agreement, but individual committee members will be at the work session meeting at 1 p.m. to offer their thoughts about issues where they couldn’t solidify an agreement.

“You guys did a lot of work,” Mr. Milton told his committee, complimenting them on their accomplishments.

Robert Grosbard praised Mr. Richards for taking a leading role in drafting several sections of the report.

As the committee adjourned Thursday night for what is expected to be its final meeting, Mr. Milton opined, “Irrigation is just one thing that affects water use overall.”

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