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Town Board work session report: Charges made that Board is ‘autocratic’ not ‘democratic’ 

The Town Board got a tongue-lashing from a woman at Tuesday’s work session, who told them, “Democratic government works much better than autocratic government. I think a democratic attitude should be present at all levels of government.”

“Why should someone want to come here when everyone becomes defensive and is rude to them when they are discussing their opinion,” Charlot Taylor said.

The subject was affordable housing and representatives of two groups that have run advertisements in the Reporter raising questions about plans, and had asked the Town Board not to relegate the discussion to committee meetings but to hold a large town meeting on the subject.

Representatives of two groups — Friends of Coecles Harbor, a group its leaders have said is not opposed to community housing but just wants some answers about issues of transfer of development rights and density; and Friends of Shelter Island, that is actively urging voters not participate in the Community Housing Fund — raised questions at Tuesday’s work session. Jan Sudol, treasurer of the Coecles Harbor group and Bob Kohn, treasurer of Friends of Shelter Island, sought to get the Town Board to set up a Town meeting at which they and others could raise their issues and get answers.

Councilwomen BJ Ianfolla and Meg Larsen had previously said Community Housing Board and Community Housing Fund Advisory Board meetings are open to the public and both allow for public questions. The men insisted the issue that looms so large in the mind of Islanders needs to be addressed in a town-wide meeting.

Supervisor Gerry Siller and Councilman Jim Colligan rejected the suggestion to respond directly to the issues contained in the ads. Both said the ads have incorrect information in them. Mr. Colligan said he would like a list of issues from each group and the Town Board could then determine the best venue in which to address them.

“I do not value the ads in the paper. They’re not accurate necessarily,” Mr. Colligan said, adding that he found them “distasteful.” But he declared his willingness to have what he called “constructive” public discussions.

Drought? Not yet.

Islanders and visitors are being asked to take voluntary measures to conserve water to avoid the Town mandating restrictions.

Based on a report from the United States Geological Survey monitoring July well water levels, the Town has moved to the first stage of the the U.S. Drought Monitor, in which it’s important to avoid non-essential water consumption.

“Aquifer levels routinely drop during the summer months,” according to the report sent to the Town Board by the Water Advisory Committee (WAC).

Right now, the Town’s drought level is based on “abnormally dry” conditions. Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island are already characterized as being in a “severe drought” stage.

Although the outlook for a worsening situation is not yet on the horizon for Suffolk County, that could change in August, a time when the Island’s swelling population creates added demand for water,

Three of the big four test wells — Manhanset, Manwaring and Congdon — are in the 27% to 32% range of capacity while the Goat Hill test well is at 50%.

In the past six months the four wells were at a 65% range, 15 points above their median levels. With some of the heavy downpours that have occurred, people may wonder how there could be any suggestion of drought. Town Engineer Joe Finora explained that the ground has been extremely dry, and when a heavy but relatively short-lived deluge occurs, the rain hitting dry surfaces won’t reach the aquifer.

“We do want to watch this carefully,” Mr. Finora said. He noted the WAC will especially be watching test well levels in the Rams and Montclair.

At the same time, he reminded the Town Board to revisit the WAC report on drought procedures, so if circumstances worsen, members can be ready with appropriate responses.

Use of irrigation systems puts the greatest strain on water quantity, Mr. Finora said. Another problem is residents who top off their pools with hoses instead of bringing in water trucks from off-Island.

Typical “domestic” use is not the problem, he said.

Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams noted she has concerns about salinity levels in water. That was something tested and reported by summer interns in the past, but this summer, no intern was hired.