Senate gives final approval to shorelands bill

The Vermont Senate passed a bill Friday to regulate development along the state’s lakeshores.

H.526 creates a protection zone extending 100 feet from the shoreline. The legislation is designed to preserve aquatic and shoreline habitat and prevent further pollution of Vermont’s lakes.

The House passed similar legislation last year. The Senate’s version, hoverer, includes permitting guidelines, exemptions and fees.

“So many people around here say the devil is in the details, I say beauty is in the details,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Critics say the bill overburdens property owners rather than addressing larger pollution contributors, such as agriculture and urban shoreland development, which are exempt from the permit requirement.

“It is about water quality, but it is also about habitat … which is just as critical as water quality,” said Snelling, who is vice chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

The Senate also passed S.215, a bill directing ANR to prioritize a strategy and financing plan for cleaning up the state’s lakes.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council, an environmental advocacy and research group, supported the shorelands bill.

“We are pleased with the way the bill is moving and it’s a solid step forward for healthy lakes in Vermont,” said Jake Brown, VNRC’s communications director.

Brown said the state is now catching up to its neighbors, New Hampshire and Maine, which have enacted similar shoreland regulations. Vermont’s lakes have less natural vegetative cover than the national average.

All lakeshore development that occurs before the bill goes into effect is grandfathered. The bill will go into effect July 1 if the governor signs it.

“One thing that we would have preferred in an ‘upon passage’ effective date,” Brown said.

The bill passed 22-6. It now goes to conference committee.

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John Herrick

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  • John McClaughry

    Prudent legislation would empower government to step in to prevent irrevocable damage. But shoreland alteration is not irrevocable. So without any indication of any specific damage, this bill creates a new regulatory regime to make any damage impossible, even if, when it might occur somewhere, the landowner could readily be made to repair it (at no expense to taxpayers or any other landowner). This is another example of the “septic Chernobyl” complex, where costs are needlessly imposed on all landowners to prohibit any theoretical damage anywhere, instead of defining actual damage and making landowners responsible for correcting it.