Environment

House and Senate reach agreement on shorelands protection standards

Rep. Bob Krebs, D-South Hero, signed the conference committee’s bill to regulate shoreland development Friday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Rep. Bob Krebs, D-South Hero, signed the conference committee’s bill to regulate shoreland development Friday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
House and Senate lawmakers reached an agreement Friday on a bill setting new permitting standards for shoreland development starting July 1.

A conference committee unanimously approved H.526, which is designed to preserve aquatic and shoreline habitat along Vermont’s lakes and large ponds.

“It will abate people from just clear-cutting and not paying attention to runoff that goes into the lake,” said Rep. Bob Krebs, D-South Hero, who served on the conference committee. “It will in some cases, I really think, help the aquatic biota, which is really the functionality, if you will, of our lake systems.”

The bill last year passed the House. After serving on the Lake Shoreland Protection Commission over the summer and taking public feedback, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee this year worked with the Agency of Natural Resources to create language in the bill that sets conditions for the development of shoreline property.

The Senate was able to keep those standards, which regulate development within 100 feet of the shoreline.

The restrictions within the so-called protection zone include no construction on a 20 percent slope; less than 40 percent of the parcel’s area can be cleared of its natural vegetative cover; and less than 20 percent of a parcel’s area can contain impervious surfaces that prevent the absorption of water runoff.

The bill creates minimum standards and gives the Agency of Natural Resources the authority to adopt more rules – a provision supported by the House.

The House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee opposed using a state permit to enforce the new standards. As a compromise, the bill ensures that municipalities with similar – or “functionally equivalent” – standards can issue their own permits.

ANR supports the bill and has begun working to educate the public on the minimum standards outlined in it, according to Trey Martin, senior policy adviser for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The next steps for us are to finalize the guidance documents that we are going to give to owners of shoreline property and then to figure out what the best process is to get around the state to distribute those and answer questions to help people understand how to comply with the obligations under the bill,” he said.

The bill will now go to both chambers for final approval.

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