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Carrying the water: Irrigation hearing set for January 23

JULIE LANE PHOTO John Hallman at the October 2014 hearing on the draft irrigation law. Mr. Hallman warned the Town Board it would be creating problems if it endorsed the proposal.

John Hallman at the October 2014 hearing on the draft irrigation law. Mr. Hallman warned the Town Board it would be creating problems if it endorsed the proposal.

Ten years.

That’s how long town officials had between the time an irrigation code on inground sprinkler systems was adopted in 2003 and the September 1, 2013, deadline when homeowners would have to stop using them.

The decade’s grace period was to give people time to amortize their investments.

But it wasn’t until 11th hour — August 2013 — that the Town Board focused on whether or not to implement the ban. It appointed an Irrigation Committee that spent 11 months in a wide-ranging examination of water quantity and quantity before recommending that if existing systems were upgraded, they could remain operational. The committee also suggested that new systems have cisterns installed with water trucked in from off-Island.

There was only one dissenting voice among those on the committee — John Hallman, who chairs the town’s Water Advisory Council. He remained mum when the committee report was first presented to the Town Board, but spoke loudly and clearly at an October public hearing, warning that the draft law had “a lot of questions, a lot of problems” and “looked like it was put together by a bunch of Philadelphia lawyers.”

During the committee meetings, another member, Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson, expressed serious reservations about enforcement. On several occasions she noted that neither the police department nor the building department had the staffs to take on the responsibility.

By the time of the public hearing, there were a number of speakers troubled by the draft that left the Town Board with no alternative but to go back to the drawing board and re-examine the proposal.

Councilmen Paul Shepherd and Peter Reich and Town Attorney Laury Dowd worked on revisions that the full Town Board have discussed nearly every week since the October hearing, finally deciding last month they had done all they could before calling for another meeting where the public can weigh in, scheduled for Friday, January 23.

Among the proposed provisions are:
• A requirement that owners file for annual permits to operate their systems. Applications must reflect full information about the layout of the system, its water source, number of zones serviced by the system and information showing that it meets necessary technology requirements.
• Limits on hours and frequency when watering is allowed.
• Approval of the use of run off water from the property, but limiting the amount of surface that could generate runoff to no more than 10 percent of the square footage of the property.
• An allowance for use of drip irrigation systems for non-turf irrigation, or turf irrigation of areas not exceeding 3,000 square feet.
• Exemptions from the code, including golf course property that existed as of 2003; land used in agricultural production; nurseries and garden centers that could irrigate except between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; and use of hand watering system.

Enforcement would fall to the Building Department and the police who would have the authority to take action if they have reason to believe a violation exists. Owners would be notified in writing and by postings on the property. Violations could be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or five days in jail and revocation of any permit to use an irrigation system.

In the event of an emergency affecting the water supply, the Town Board would be authorized to restrict use of systems and other consumptive water uses.

The public hearing for Friday, January 23 will begin at 4:50 p.m.

The complete revised code proposal is available on the town’s website at shelterislandtown.us by selecting the “Town Topics” tab and then clicking on “Upcoming Hearings and Laws.”