2012-04-19 / News

Water panel notes ominously dry weather and depleted reservoir

Town engineer says 3 or 4 days of steady rain still won’t remedy the problem
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Jamestown water and sewer commissioners this week took note of the gathering drought and the conservation measures that will probably have to be implemented if the island doesn’t have a “rainy season” this spring.

Held on April 16, the water and sewer meeting was followed by a Town Council meeting, which included a Lions Club offer to help finance some “bells and whistles” left out of the final specifications for the replacement pavilion under construction at Fort Getty.

Town Engineer Mike Gray told the water commissioners that the island’s precipitation is down at least a third, although the north reservoir is just 2 million gallons shy of its 60-million-gallon capacity. But that’s only because the town has been replenishing the pond with water that it is pumping from wells and the south reservoir, and that’s the approach the town will maintain for the foreseeable future.

Gray pointed out that a day or two of rain would be quickly lost to evaporation and transpiration. He told the Press that even three or four days of steady rain wouldn’t help that much because it would simply be absorbed and held by the thirstiest areas of the watershed.

When, and if, the north reservoir falls to a level 42 inches below the top of the spillway, the council will implement some or all of the available water-use restrictions. Commissioner Mike Schnack said he had placed the subject of restrictions on the agenda to refresh everyone’s memory of what they are.

The restrictions are enumerated in the conservation chapter of the town’s Code of Ordinances, which is accessible via the clerk’s page on the Jamestown website. They prohibit lawn sprinkling and irrigation, among other nonessential water uses, from June 1 through Aug. 31. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero told the commissioners that the process of imposing restrictions would take about a month because the council would have to advertise – and hold – a public hearing. It would then have to provide some time for the restrictions to take effect.

A consideration of lead time is particularly important this time of year because the island is approaching its busiest water-use season, with consumption increasing by as much as a third at the peak of the season. Ruggiero said the lead time for an emergency imposition of restrictions would be 10 to 15 days, and noted that the council could also temporarily lift restrictions for a special need, such as a car-washing fundraiser.

Fundraising was brought up at the top of the council meeting, after an agenda item identifi ed as “Fort Getty” was moved up from its “unfinished business” slot near the end of the schedule.

The purpose of the Fort Getty agenda item was a presentation by Jamestown Lions Club President John Murphy, who pointed out that it was the Lions Club that built the original John C. Rembijas Pavilion at the end of the 1970s. He also stressed that the club was pleased that the council had selected an architect whose design duplicated the form of the original structure, along with “many improvements.”

Murphy also pointed out that some of the features previously proposed for the replacement pavilion, such as granite benches and a “story circle” with a fire pit, were deleted from the specifications as a cost-saving measure. Murphy said the club would like to raise money for the extras by way of a fundraiser held along the lines of the Community Center Beautification Project. Under that scenario, a committee of residents would run the fundraising and deliver the money directly to Finance Director Tina Collins, who would make the money available to fund the additional features.

The council embraced the idea, with Councilor Bill Murphy suggesting that the fundraising include offers of “naming rights” for individual bricks and granite slabs. In fact, even though the proposal wasn’t formal enough to qualify for a vote, the discussions were tantamount to a vote, with Ruggiero advising Collins to work out the details of money transfers from the club in a way that ensures that the donations are tax deductible. Council President Schnack advised John Murphy to prepare a written proposal that the council could bring to a vote.

In pavilion progress news, Gray informed the councilors that a small glitch – a layer of peat moss at the level where the base of some caissons were supposed to rest – would not affect the construction schedule at all.

Among the many communications accepted by the council, one was from the Conservation Commission, which transmitted its determination (by a 5-1 vote) that the wind turbine proposal should not be denied on aesthetic grounds. Councilor Ellen Winsor expressed the view that the commission should have been provided with a “broader definition of aesthetics.” The variances and permit necessary for the turbine to be built will be debated by the Zoning Board of Review on April 24.

The commission also submitted remarks on the subject of Fort Getty planning. “While we don’t feel it is within our purview to comment specifically on the financial analyses currently under review,” says the letter from Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki, “we do wish to remind the council that, as a public park with waterfront access and significant, unique and sensitive resources, Fort Getty is a tremendous asset to our community. Time and again, Jamestowners have overwhelmingly supported and invested in the protection of open space on this island.”

The letter went on to say, “We believe strongly that the Town Council should keep the park’s conservation values in the forefront of your decision making. These fragile resources are a community asset, deserving of our care and concern.”

The council will address Fort Getty planning issues in an April 23 work session.

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