Shoreland protection bill emerges from Senate committee

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, a member of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, a member of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

After weeks of debate centered on the rights of lakeside property owners and the urgency to protect Vermont’s shared resources, a committee of lawmakers approved legislation to regulate shoreland around the state’s lakes and ponds.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee unanimously approved a bill Friday to require a permit for certain development around lakes and ponds of greater than 10 acres.

The Senate’s version of H.526 requires a state permit to develop property within 250 feet of lakeshores under certain conditions. The bill also includes a list of exemptions for small projects, qualifying towns and urban and agricultural shorelands.

Chief among the bill’s critics was Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, who voted to support the bill Friday. Rodgers sought to ease the bill’s regulatory impact on landowners by negotiating several provisions.

“I think that it is not exactly what I wanted, but also a lot of the concessions weren’t exactly what the rest of the committee wanted. So it kind of felt that we met halfway,” Rodgers said.

The bill allows property owners to create a 6-foot wide path down to the waterfront without obtaining a permit. At issue with this provision was whether the path would be too narrow to allow convenient construction on the waterfront, such as a dock or boathouse.

Rodgers wanted to allow property owners to double the size of the path twice a year.

“I understand the committee’s concern about habit and water quality, and I share that. But the difference between me and the rest of the committee is that I have done this for 20 plus years working around lakes. And so I have real life experience with it,” he said.

Other provisions include a permit exemption for a 250-square-foot area within the protected zone for recreational purposes, such as a fire pit, and allowing more flexibility for home additions.

Chris Rice, a lawyer and lobbyist representing Vermont Realtors, said the committee’s bill, though better than previous the House bill, will still burden property owners already struggling with existing permitting fees.

“It’s no one single thing, but it is the accumulation of some areas of permitting systems that has become overly burdensome,” he told the committee, adding that without a more comprehensive look at the state’s permit laws, “this is one more layer that is going to add one more burden to property owners.”

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, said the bill protects lakeside property owners by ensuring the long-term health of the state’s lakes.

“But if everybody makes use of their land, the maximum, they won’t have any lake to use. It will be something quite different. So, this is in the collective interest of all the property owners. And it’s in the interest of the state because these are public trusts, these are wildlife habitats, and there are lots of other ecological values here,” Galbraith told the committee.

The bill requires municipal regulations to be “functionally equivalent” to the statewide standard if towns wish to override the state’s permit, a determined by Agency of Natural Resources, which offered key details to the bill.

Susan Warren, section chief of Lakes & Ponds Management in the Department of Environmental Conservation, said there are nearly 50 towns that have shoreland protection regulations. A very small portion of these towns would meet the statewide criteria, she said.

Lake Champlain’s frosty shoreline in Charlotte. Photo by John Herrick/VTDiger

Lake Champlain’s frosty shoreline in Charlotte. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Jake Brown, government affairs and communications director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the council, which previously pushed for stronger state control, is satisfied with the current exemption for eligible towns.

“I think it seems clear in the bill that there is a good solid floor of requirements that cities and towns would have to meet in order to get delegation. And we think that’s fine,” Brown said.

He said the bill’s only minor shortcoming is that it would go into effect July 1, which some say encourages landowners to develop their property before the regulations kick in.

“The most protective bill would be one that had an effective date upon passage,” he said, a date that was struck from the bill Friday. “The sooner the bill goes into effect, the sooner better protections are in place for lake.”

The House bill and the agency’s recommendations included an exemption for agricultural land. Committee members considered striking this exemption from the bill early in the week.

“My concern is how do we make a positive argument that our intent is to protect shorelands and then exempt agriculture, which we know is a large contributor?” said committee Vice Chair Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, the bill’s lead proponent.

The bill currently requires agricultural shoreline development to meet best management practices set by the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets as a condition of the exemption.

John Herrick

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15 Comments on "Shoreland protection bill emerges from Senate committee"


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2 years 11 months ago

Well, if anyone has ever read the “best far practices, they would find that it only exempts farmers from any pollution as long as they were following “accepted agricultural practices”. Residential property owners are being shafted again! And we are supposed to believe these “Leaders” care about the Lakes, Rivers and Streams. Mandatory buffer zones NOW for all Agriculture!

Craig Kneeland
2 years 11 months ago

The ten acre exemption is unreasonable. Only McMansions, built on 9.9 acres will result. Since this bill is supposed to offer PROTECTION, then it only offers protection for those property owners who will be buying up all property so that subdivision will allow a way to get around Protections. The bill does not adequately protect our water resources around lakes and streams. Act 250 should be required for all development and property transfers near our beautiful lakes. Hope our House and Governer are more considerate of those that don’t own any property near Lakes. And Streams.

Frec Jenson
2 years 11 months ago

You are totally incorrect, there is no exemption for development on less than 10 acres. This applies to ALL land within 250 feet of a lake 10 acres or greater in size.

The ANR’s own studies show that There will be absolutely no quantifiable improvement in the water quality of Lake Champlain by any measure.

This bill exempts the two largest contributors of pollution (agricultural runoff and municipal roadway runoff ) from any new regulation.

Instead, this bill will require a permit for lakefront homeowners from mowing lawns, planting vegetable gardens, or maintaining their property.

John Dupee
2 years 11 months ago

If our representatives are really concerned about the lakes of Vermont, they should put some effort into eliminating the agricultural run-off emanating from Rutland, Franlkin and Lamoille counties. The most urgent pollution problem in Lake Champlain is the degradation of the waters in the southern reaches and Mississquoi Bay – all due to phosphorus from agricultural run-off. Curbing shoreline development will have no effect on the most urgent problem.

Kathy Leonard
2 years 11 months ago

Craig, I think the 10 acres refers to the size of the lake – not the lot.

Janet Weaver
2 years 11 months ago

This Bill is ‘feel good’ legislation only. Lake shore owners are not polluting the water, as evidenced by several studies. We are the stewards of the Lakes and Ponds. I urge ALL Vermont Senators to vote “NO” to increased bureaucracy with very limited (if any) benefits.

carla hudson
2 years 11 months ago

Face it, this bill will be passed, the only way to fight it, is with an injunction or class action lawsuit. To allow the biggest polluter of rivers ,streams, and lakes a pass, is irresponsible and prejudiced.

Alex MacDonald
2 years 11 months ago

Vermont is currently the only state in New England without a stringent shoreline protection bill. It is way past time we join our fellow states in this act of stewardship.

David Emmons
2 years 11 months ago
Well our fellow states are doing a bang-up job of it too. The Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection publishes a list each year of over 35 lakes with Toxic Blue-Green Algae blooms….looks like their plan works real well. Why this legislation? Selective use of an EPA report! This Agenda driven legislation is ignoring the bigger picture! This same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, the 2010 National Lakes Assessment concluded in its summary section, (Relative Extent of Stressors and Interpretation of Results) the following good news for Vermont’s lakes: Of particular note is the preponderance of Vermont lakes in good condition… Read more »
Paul Lorenzini
2 years 11 months ago

protection is a liberal codeword for confiscation, regulation and more fees.

David Emmons
2 years 11 months ago
Why this legislation? Selective use of an EPA report! This Agenda driven legislation is ignoring the bigger picture! This same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, the 2010 National Lakes Assessment concluded in its summary section, (Relative Extent of Stressors and Interpretation of Results) the following good news for Vermont’s lakes: Of particular note is the preponderance of Vermont lakes in good condition regardless of the stressor type. One hundred percent of Vermont lakes are in good condition for dissolved oxygen in the surface waters. Ninety-five percent of Vermont lakes are in good condition for nitrogen concentrations. Seventy four percent have… Read more »
2 years 11 months ago
When will people wake up. The same people who are proposing to do something about the quality of water in our State are the same people who have allowed our water quality to become diminished. I have watched this process for the last 50 years and I can assure you, you can’t have the same people who made a mess of this to be the ones to fix it. Our Representatives are directly responsible for the condition of our lakes and streams demise. They refused to regulate the industrialization of farming when Agribusiness came to Vermont with the concept of… Read more »
2 years 11 months ago

What good is a lakeshore property if manure produced blue green algae has killed, and stunk up, the environment? Blue green algae has been very detrimental to the property owners in the worse hit areas, such as St. Albans. I agree with Janet Weaver, all Senators please vote NO for this “feel good” legislation.

David Emmons
2 years 11 months ago

The answer to your Blue-Green algae is aeration. This guy would solve your problems next season.

Bob Short
2 years 10 months ago
Follow the money. That will give you the answer to all this madness. The EPA has given the State of Vt. a deadline to develop a plan that will deal with the problems in Lake Champlain. No plan No Grant money and face some fines or lawsuits down the road. Pressure is on. Simple fact and our Representatives don’t have what it takes to stand up to the EPA. Dave Emmons has a website listed in his post that has the answer to cleaning up Lake Champlain. If the ANR would bring in an expert to clean up Lake… Read more »
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