New standards for development and clearing along Vermont’s shorelines take effect Tuesday.
The Shorelands Protection Act applies to all properties along lakes and ponds greater than 10 acres in size within 250 feet of the average waterline.
The law, passed by the Legislature last session, is intended to preserve the state’s water quality and prevent harm to shoreline aquatic habitats caused by lakeside development. The law will apply to 435 lakes and ponds, according to state officials.
A permit is required for certain activities within a protected area of the shoreline, such as expanding existing buildings, driveways, lawns, and the overall impervious footprint of shoreline properties.
The permit sets the following standards:
• No more than 20 percent of the parcel can be an impervious surface. This includes paved and gravel driveways, parking areas, tennis courts, decks, patios, retaining walls, and a home, garage or shed.
• No more than 40 percent of the parcel can be cleared of natural vegetation. Clearing includes grass lawns, gardens, large pathways and other impervious surfaces.
• No development is allowed on a 20 percent or greater slope unless the property owner demonstrates the slope to be stable.
If these percentages are exceeded, then the applicant must demonstrate best management practices to mitigate the environmental impacts.
More on these standards can be found in Department of Environmental Conservation’s handbook on the law.
Permit exemptions include maintenance of existing buildings, gardens and lawns (as long as they are not made any larger), the creation of a six-foot wide access path to the water, removal of up to 250 square feet of vegetation 25 feet back from the waterline, removal of dead trees, and tree pruning and thinning.
Smaller projects will not require a permit. A registration process is available for development of 100 square feet set back 25 feet from the waterline, and 500 square feet set back 100 feet from the waterline. Any development exceeding these limits will require a permit.
The registration fee is $100 and will take up to 15 days for review. The permit fee is $125 with an additional 50 cents for each square foot of impervious surface created.
Several lake associations oppose the statewide standards, according to Bill Steinmetz, president of the Lake Saint Catherine Conservation Fund, an organization based in Wells and Poultney.
Speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Vermont Lakes, which represents eight lake and pond associations, Steinmetz agreed that “our lakes need to be restored,” but that every lake in Vermont must have specific strategy.
The law allows municipalities to enforce their own regulations with approval from the DEC. But Steinmetz said this “doesn’t change the standards, it just changes who administers them.”
Because projects completed before July 1 are not affected by the new regulations, Steinmetz said homeowners are rushing to finish certain projects.
“It has encouraged a flurry of construction,” Steinmetz said about Lake Saint Catherine. “Four or five projects are being constructed now to beat the deadline.”
He said the Agency of Natural Resources will have a difficult time enforcing the new standards.
“Most lake associations are having serious problems working with ANR,” Steinmetz said. “We currently wait years for permits. Why should it take four years to get a permit to improve the lake?”
The state plans to hire three new employees to administer the permit program, according to Susan Warren, DEC’s manager for all lakes and ponds programs.
Like many other state permit programs, violations will be reviewed on a complaint basis and random checks, she said.
Fines for violating the law will be assessed based on the amount of damage caused to the environment, Warren said.
The state encourages shoreline property owners to call DEC to determine whether projects require a permit or registration.
For more information on the permit standards, email the Agency of Natural Resources at [email protected] or call 490-6196.