Ridgefielders acted to strengthen oversight of underground water resources with a resounding 197 to 86 town meeting vote last week, transferring aquifer protection responsibilities from the Planning and Zoning Commission to the new separate Inland Wetlands Board.

“With aquifers, the old adage of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is really true,” said Conservation Commission member Jack Kace. “Cleaning up aquifers is a really difficult (and expensive) process.”

Since 1990 a single group of nine officials has acted as Ridgefield’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Inland Wetlands Board and Aquifer Protection Agency. That arrangement will continue until after the November election, when a new separate Inland Wetlands Board will be elected — and, as a result of last week’s vote, will take over aquifer protection duties. The separation of the wetlands board from the Planning and Zoning Commission was dictated by voters’ approval of a charter revision proposal last November.

A crowd approaching 300 packed Veterans Park School’s auditorium Wednesday night, Sept. 4, but there was virtually no debate. The question was almost immediately called, and an overwhelming voice vote directed officials to skip discussion and get on with voting.

Sentiments on at least one side of the question had been aired extensively at a late August public hearing where there had been 23 speakers in favor of giving aquifer protection duties to the wetlands board and no one spoke in support of keeping the responsibilities with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Conservation Commission member Kace, who’d vocal in support of the transferring aquifer responsibilities to the new wetlands board, expects the town meeting’s decision will strengthen environmental oversight.

“First it will mean that there will be more attention paid to aquifers, the source of drinking water to many residents,” he told The Press. “The key to aquifer protection is prevention of spills of harmful chemicals in sensitive areas called aquifer protection areas (APAs). APAs have very porous soil and rocks so a spill on the ground surface makes its way to the aquifer quickly.

“One of IWB’s (Inland Wetlands Board’s) jobs will be to educate the facilities and businesses located on APAs,” he said. “Some chemicals that cause problems are obvious, like lead compounds, and some are more surprising like some lawn chemicals, cleaning chemicals, and many more. The facility/business might not even know these products contain problematic chemicals. IWB can find out what is being used and both assure safer storage and suggest safer alternatives —all to protect our aquifers.”

There was applause Wednesday night when town meeting moderator Sharon Dornfeld announced the results of the ‘option A’ or ‘option B’ paper-ballot vote.

“In favor of ‘A,’ the Inland Wetlands Board, 197,” she said. “In favor of ‘B,’ the Planning and Zoning Commission, 86.”

The paper ballots had been handed out to registered Ridgefield voters as people entered the auditorium, showing identification. After a minimum of procedural discussion, people marked their ballots and filed in long lines down the auditorium’s two aisles to turn them in. The collected ballots counted in the Veterans Park principal’s office by a group of eight people headed by Republican Registrar of Voters Wayne Floegel and including Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti and Town Attorney Dave Grogins, as observers.

The town meeting had been scheduled to start at 7:30 and, although there was no debate of the issue, it was about 8:30 when the vote totals were announced — with much of that time taken up by the registrars of voters documenting people’s status as voters as they entered and them the small green slips of paper that served as ballots.