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Twp. to revisit ordinance governing irrigating with local lake water



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February 16, 2011 - Not that it matters much in the dead of winter, but Oxford Township's six-month moratorium on using lake water to irrigate lawns was allowed to expire last week.

But that doesn't mean the township board is finished dealing with the issue – far from it.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari and Trustee Joe Bunting were directed to draft an amendment to the ordinance that covers this issue – incorporating comments from last week's board meeting – and bring it back to the board April 6.

Right now, the township's "Wetlands and Watercourses Ordinance," which has been in effect since July 1996, prohibits using lake water to irrigate a lawn unless a permit is first obtained.

Obtaining a permit encompasses paying a $75 application fee, placing a $500 deposit to cover any consultant fees if incurred and going before the planning commission.

Officials have admitted the ordinance is typically never enforced and routinely violated by many folks living on lakes.

The township originally placed a six-month moratorium on this part of the ordinance in August 2010 after an issue arose in the Waterstone development. Since then, it's been discovered this issue is the jurisdiction of a homeowners association as opposed to the township and covered under a deed restriction.

When the moratorium was brought back to the township board last week for a possible extension, Supervisor Bill Dunn recommended simply getting rid of this ordinance language.

"I think it's an antiquated ordinance and should be repealed," he said. "This ordinance was put in years ago and I believe it was put in because there was a fear they were going to drain the lakes or affect people's wells."

Dunn cited a January 2010 report on the township's water supply, conducted by the Hydrogeologic Services Department of Peerless-Midwest, Inc., as scientific proof that the ordinance really isn't necessary.

According to the expert report, "The aquifer beneath Oxford is prolific . . . The thickness and lateral expanse of the aquifer system produces significant groundwater storage capacity . . . The aquifer beneath Oxford contains vast quantities of groundwater."

"The water in Oxford Township is prolific," Dunn said. "We cannot draw it down even if we pump four times what we're pumping now and we'd have to do it for years."

Despite this information, some township officials weren't comfortable with the idea of a flat-out repeal.

"I don't think we should have a blanket statement in there that says anybody can pump water out of the lakes to water their lawn," said Trustee Mike Spisz. "I think we should have some kind of guidelines for that."

Dunn indicated that if the ordinance is kept and enforced, people are not going to be happy about being required to pay for a permit.

"I think we're going to upset a lot of people around the lakes here that are presently watering their lawns from the lake," he said. "It just sounds like a money grab."

Some officials suggested eliminating the fee so it wouldn't be a "burden," but still requiring residents to obtain a permit.

"I don't have any problem with the permit thing just so you know who's doing it, but I don't think there should be a charge to it," said Trustee Sue Bellairs.

Other officials wondered if someone was irrigating their lawn with lake water prior to the ordinance's enactment in 1996, would they be exempt from obtaining a permit due to grandfather rights?

Township attorney Gary Rentrop informed the board that grandfather rights do not apply to this particular ordinance.

"The only thing that is subject to the grandfather right is a zoning ordinance," he explained. "If it's adopted under the general powers of the township, then it's not subject to the grandfather right."

Other issues were raised such as the fact that the current ordinance doesn't require residents to pull electrical permits for their pumps or have them inspected by the township.

"Technically, you have a chance of little kids, and everybody, running up and down the backyards, getting electrocuted if it's not installed properly," said Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz.

"I've lived here 40 years and that's never happened once," Bellairs said.

"It only takes one time," Scholz retorted.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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