Senate backs lakeshore development bill

State Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

State Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill Thursday to regulate lakeshore development.

The bill sets standards for new construction within 100 feet of the state’s shorelines and includes fees to cover the cost of administration of the law.

There are no statewide standards for shoreland development in Vermont. According to a 2013 report on Vermont’s lakes, the state’s natural shoreline vegetation is less than the national average.

Replacing a lake’s natural shoreline vegetation with manicured lawns and cottage expansions, for example, can cause shoreline erosion, habitat degradation and add to pollution, according to the report.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, vice chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the state is behind schedule in setting protection standards for Vermont’s shorelands.

“It was really kind of shocking to me to find out that the greatest density in Vermont is on lakeshores,” said Snelling, who has made the bill one of her top priorities this session.

The bill, H.526, sets standards for development within a 100-foot protection zone of the waterline: development must be located on a stable slope of less than 20 percent; no more than 40 percent of the protected area can be cleared of its natural vegetation; and no more than 20 percent of the protected zone can be impervious.

Advocates of the bill say it preserves the value of Vermont’s most precious public asset.

Sen. Eldred French, D-Rutland, a lakeside property owner, declared his support for the bill.

“In terms of what we are asking from the people who are lucky enough to live by the lake, (it) is not onerous,” he said. “And that going forward all of these measures are going to help to keep our lake … good going forward and clean going forward and fishable going forward for all of the citizens of Vermont, not just those who are lucky enough to live by the lake.”

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said he shares the public’s “passion” to clean up lakes and ponds, but the bill does little address the critical pollution contributors.

“As I read the bill, I don’t see any mitigation for some of the biggest polluters in the state of Vermont,” he said.

He said state-owned development should comply with the standards, including concrete fishing access points and state culverts. He said the state should lead by example before asking property owners to comply with the state’s “heavy-handed” attempt to protect lakeshores.

The bill only applies to new development.

The Agency of Natural Resources recommended several additional permit exemptions, including any construction that maintains an equal amount of impervious or cleared area. Landowners will also be able to clear a six-foot wide path to the waterfront without a permit.

Self registration is required for development on less than 250 square feet within the protection zone, a change proposed by Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, who was critical of the bill during its time in committee.

If a landowner’s existing property cannot meet the standard due to its size, then the permit applicant can demonstrate best management practices to ensure there is no undue erosion caused by new development.

The bill includes a fee to cover the personnel required to administer the program. By Jan. 15, 2016, the Agency of Natural Resources must provide lawmakers with updated price tag for administering the program. The fees are set at $100 for a registration application and a permit fee of $125 plus 50 cents per square foot of impervious surface.

The Senate voted 21-4 in support of the bill. The bill is scheduled for a final Senate vote on Friday.

John Herrick

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  • Lance Hagen

    Has anyone figured out whether the implementation of these requirements will truely make any difference in improving water quality? I have a strong sense that this is just a ‘token law’, so it looks like the government is actually doing something.

  • John Brabant, Calais, VT

    Ah Lance Hagen, you have hit upon something. I am a strong supporter of protecting lakeshores from development and landscaping of shorelands. A major flaw with this bill as I understand it is it will allow the placement of septic systems and septic system leachfields a mere 50′ from the lake shore. It seems the bill has gotten off-track here. Where do we think the water flowing from these leachfields will drain? Were do we think the phosphorus from these leachfields will end up? There is no magic to leachfield technology, it is a perforated pipe stuck into a pile of / pit of gravel. It will all end up in the lakes and ponds we are seeking to protect from phosphorus pollution from overland runoff. Solution? No new development should be allowed where such development would require waste water disposal systems to be placed within 200′ of of the seasonal high water mark. That would be a good starting point. Otherwise, this bill is will be endorsing the expansion of this environmentally unsound practice.

  • Terry O’Connor

    Getting really tired of people who are paid by the tax payers, paid holidays , paid vacations , health insurance , retirement benefits and heated offices. Making the assumption that people who don’t . Have no idea what their doing ! Any work properly designed , and with a good means and method . Is good and Taxable !
    Not everyone can work for the state . Some of us have to make it on our own . Stimulating local economy’s through , equipment purchases , taxes , registration fees , materials and labor .
    Before you pull the trigger on this one , you should make sure you really want to kill what you aiming at !

  • Sandy Gregg

    John Brabant, I appreciate your passion to keep sewage out of the lake. I would like to point out that there are newer waste technologies that release potable water. Advantex is one of these new technologies. Check it out.

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