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Irrigation law still under discussion at Town Hall

JULIE LANE PHOTO Irrigation Committee chairman Thom Milton listened to Town Board members Wednesday as they struggled with revising a law that would achieve scientific ends as well as political necessities.
Irrigation Committee chairman Thom Milton listened to Town Board members Wednesday as they worked on revising a draft irrigation law.

While details remain sketchy on revisions being made to a proposed irrigation law, it appears the Town Board is leaning toward a “one size fits all” solution setting regulations for the entire Island.But that’s not the recommendation from Irrigation Committee chairman Thom Milton.

“One size fits all, however well intentioned it is, doesn’t work,” Mr. Milton told the Town Board at Wednesday’s work session.

It’s houses in peninsula areas that should be required to install cisterns if they’re to operate automatic underground irrigation systems, he said. To require installation in areas like Hay Beach where there’s not a lot of concentration of chlorides in wells, despite the existence of many irrigation systems, doesn’t make sense, Mr. Milton added.

Picking up on comments expressed at earlier meetings about an increase in truck traffic carrying water to refill cisterns that could be hard on local roadways, Mr. Milton said cisterns that need to be filled with trucked-in water should be required only in areas that need such protection.

He compared requiring cisterns for all irrigation systems on the Island to imposing a 20 mph speed limit on all roads, instead of just those near Shelter Island School.

Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. said he’s not concerned about wear and tear to the roads during the warm weather season. The times when the trucks could do damage would be during the early spring when there are freeze-thaw conditions occurring, he said.

While taking issue with the one size fits all approach, Mr. Milton told the Town Board he’s “just picking at the edges” of some of what’s being discussed for inclusion in the law and said he thinks the town has come a long way in its approach to the issue.

What’s practical to do “may be at odds with the science,” he said.

That’s how Councilman Paul Shepherd sees it. He has been liaison between the Town Board and Irrigation Committee and admitted he’s not sure how to make everyone feel comfortable with whatever the final law goes on the books.

That’s not going to happen, Councilwoman Chris Lewis said, noting that since the discussion started in the summer of 2013, there are those who are not “opening their minds” to allowing any irrigation systems to operate.

“You can’t write a law that’s going to be written in stone,” Councilman Ed Brown said, predicting that whatever the revised law says, it’s likely to undergo changes as circumstances merit. Councilman Peter Reich agreed it would have to be tweaked over time.

The fact that the board can’t know everything shouldn’t stop it from enacting laws based on what is known, Mr. Shepherd said. He acknowledged that while the committee worked to bring fact-based science to its recommendations, the Town Board needs to consider sociological and political issues in actions it takes.

“Water is a common resource; we need to regulate it as a common resource,” he said.

Town attorney Laury Dowd, who has been rewriting the original proposal first made public in September, continues to work on the  draft based on subsequent Town Board conversations and work with Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Reich.

She was expected to submit a new draft to Town Board members this week and Mr. Dougherty planned to submit it to the Shelter Island Association, which has picked up the tab for much of the costs for consulting and water testing done in connection with the committee’s work.

Because changes to the September draft have been significant, there will be another public hearing before the Town Board takes action.

The moratorium on new systems and changes to existing systems has been extended to February 2015.

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