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Shelter Island passes 'dark skies' law

Shelter Island officials passed a controversial

Shelter Island officials passed a controversial "dark skies" law to limit light pollution on the island. Credit: Randee Daddona, 2011

Shelter Island's town board, after extensive debate, has approved a surprisingly controversial local law restricting outdoor lighting -- the same kind of "dark skies" law already in every other East End town.

But just before it took the 3-2 vote Friday to approve the dark skies law, the town board opened the door to another local controversy, setting a public hearing on Aug. 9 on a proposal to allow people to continue to use underground sprinkler systems, despite a ban adopted a decade ago that called for all such sprinklers to be permanently turned off Sept. 1.

Both issues reflect the special conditions on Shelter Island, the smallest of Long Island's towns.

Dark skies became controversial, in part, because there have been few complaints made about light pollution in the 12-square-mile town, which has only a small commercial area. Opponents said it was an unnecessary intrusion by the government, but supporters said the time to deal with light pollution was before people purchased and installed outdoor fixtures, which would have to be replaced to meet the code.

The underground sprinkler ban was approved 10 years ago because Shelter Island's isolated fragile underground water supply is threatened by saltwater intrusion, and pumping water from private wells to irrigate lawns can worsen the problem.

The law banned new sprinklers, but gave people with existing systems 10 years to use them.

Now, with the ban on sprinklers finally about to go into effect, landscapers and others on Shelter Island are saying perhaps a total ban is not needed.

Others disagree. "I've waited 10 years for this," said Bob Cacciola, who questioned why the board decided on a moratorium after meeting earlier in the week with a dozen landscapers who supported the delay.

Town Councilman Edward Brown said at least 50 people have talked to him about changing the coming ban during the past year, and that the town board has not made up its mind on the issue. "All we did was agree to have a meeting in August to discuss it," he said.

There was some discussion at Friday's meeting about whether new technology, such as digital timers, and limiting sprinkler use, would change the impact that sprinkler systems have on Shelter Island's limited supply of water.

Some board members also talked about the possibility of changing the ban so that it only applies to those parts of Shelter Island nearest the bays.

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