Drought conditions are forcing area farmers - and local town boards - to resort to creative practices.
"Every farmer right now is trying to irrigate. The people making flex pipe right now are singing a song," Charles Sam told the Town of Pomfret council at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Sam, owner of A. Sam Farm, Inc., has requested permission from the Town of Dunkirk and the Town of Pomfret to grant a temporary easement to allow Sam to pump water from Lake Erie and pipe it down Wilbur Road through the two towns to help refill his farm's irrigation pond. The pipe would run under a number of the towns' culverts and be buried under some driveways with the permission of the affected homeowners.
Sam said his pond is drained to nearly a foot from the pond floor.
"That pond never went dry until this year. Never, since I was a kid, did it ever go dry," he said.
Pomfret attorney Jeffrey Passafaro, who is also attorney for the Town of Dunkirk, said the Dunkirk Town board passed a resolution to allow the pump and pipe at a special meeting last week, but with conditions.
"It's a temporary, revocable permit. The DEC (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) has granted a permit to draw up to 100,000 gallons per day for 30 days, and the state has allowed the use of a culvert under Route 5. There are conditions ... such as a non-interference clause with the public access ramp and some non-disturbance language with residents and commercial club property," Passafaro said.
Passafaro also noted the Town of Dunkirk highway supervisor has the authority to shut the pump down at any time if there was a problem.
The ramp is adjacent to Shorewood Country Club and some homes are near the location where the pump would operate.
Sam said the engine used for the pump is currently being fitted with a muffler.
"It's a tractor engine but I'm putting a muffler on it so it sounds like a pick-up truck. A couple things are going to happen before I pump any water. One is that you are going to hear this pump. ... I'm not looking to make any enemies. I have enough already," Sam explained.
The pump would be allowed to run from Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Sam said it would not likely run the entire day.
Sam told the board he has to attempt anything he can to try to save his cabbage crop.
"The plants are under stress. They are stunted. My plants are dying," Sam said. "When I file all of my paperwork with the government, I have an obligation to say I did the best I can."
Councilman David Penharlow asked what Sam would do if the pump fails to deliver enough water.
"Then I go home and cry. I suffer the loss," Sam replied, noting that he is on a waiting list for a larger pump, and explained pumps are in high demand due to the drought.
He told the board he is still obligated to the DEC to monitor the amount he is drawing and not exceed 100,000 gallons per day. The expected maximum output is 70,000 gallons per day. According to Town Supervisor Don Steger, the DEC classifies it as a "low volume" output.
Sam said he'd attempted to obtain other resources, but the City of Dunkirk won't sell him water from a hydrant. Steger explained in the Van Buren area, the Dunkirk water system would not have enough pressure. Sam said trucking water in was cost-prohibitive.
Councilwoman Ann Eckmann shared concerns about setting a precedent.
"What happens if we say yes to this, and next week, we have ten more farms wanting to do this?"
Steger said it's an unusual situation because of the location of the farm and proximity to the lake.
"Anyone else would have to have the same kind of access," Steger explained.
Councilman Scott Johnston said that if the permit is only for 30 days, and can be revoked at any time, then his concerns were minimal.
"It's just 30 days," Johnston said.
As the questions from all board members began to subside, Penharlow suggested Highway Supervisor Dan Bigelow, who initially expressed concern about leaks possibly damaging roads or creating a hydroplane situation for cars, weigh in on the issue.
"Well, after listening to all of you, I guess it would be OK as long as I am able to shut the pump down if necessary or one of my men can and there is an insurance carrier if something does happen. It's a 30 day permit so we'll see what happens. As long as the town isn't liable, then I'm fine with it," Bigelow responded.
Steger introduced the motion to allow the easement with stipulations requiring liability insurance and the authority of the highway supervisor to be able to shut the pump down if necessary, along with other legal terms as spelled out by Passafaro. The motion passed unanimously. Passafaro will draw the legal contracts for both towns to enter into an agreement with Sam.
The next regular meeting of the Pomfret town board is Aug. 8 at 6:30.
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