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Citing Property Rights, Senate Leadership Delays Shoreline Bill

Legislation aimed at protecting water quality by controlling development along lakes and ponds will likely be delayed for a year.

The bill has already passed the House. But Senate leaders want to postpone passage so lawmakers can spend the summer on public education efforts.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee spent part of the morning Wednesday hearing from officials in New Hampshire and Maine, which enacted lakeshore protections decades ago.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, said senators learned that Maine modeled its law on a statute that Vermont passed in the early 1970s. But Vermont rescinded the law after just a few years.

“And Maine continued, and they’ve done very well with it.” Hartwell said. “And we also heard from New Hampshire, which has a somewhat different set-up. But a lot of the standards are very similar between the two states. And they seem to be working. So we’re just, we’re a laggard in this area, and we need to catch up.”

The House version of the bill says a state permit is required for development within 250 feet of the shoreline. The idea is that vegetative buffers soak up polluting run off and protect water quality.

But despite four decades without a comprehensive shoreline protection bill, it’s likely the Legislature will wait another year. Hartwell said Senate leadership has asked for a delay.

“I think the committee feels there needs to be a bill reported but the leadership decided there needs to be a very broad informational process because there were a lot of questions,” he said. “So we agreed. I’m not going to say I was enthusiastic.”

Senate President John Campbell said the bill affects the rights of lake shore property owners. He said there’s not enough time left in the legislative session to give it the scrutiny it deserves.

“Whenever you’re dealing with people’s property rights, every ‘T’ should be crossed, and every ‘I’ dotted,” he said. “Certainly I know most of the senators support this bill. However, it’s one where we do not want to have unintended consequences.”

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, supports the bill, and she’s frustrated with the leadership’s call to go slow.

She said the Agency of Natural Resources has studied the issue for years.

“It may be an uphill effort on my part but I think it’s extremely important to take action this year, and not wait,” she said. “When people say, ‘oh, you want the complete bill.’ I want something in place that starts to make people aware of how critical it is to protect shorelines to have clean water.”

Environmentalists are frustrated as well. They thought the House bill was too weak, and had hoped the Senate would toughen the legislation with provisions for a mandatory lakeshore buffer zone.

Anthony Iarrapino of the Conservation Law Foundation said the Legislature should look at the experience in New Hampshire and Maine.

“People who are saying we can’t do this and protect property values at the same time, they’re just wrong,” he said. “New Hampshire and Maine have done that. We’ve protected water quality, we’ve protected wildlife habitat and we’ve protected property values all at the same time in the other New England states. We should be able to do it here in Vermont.”

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Hartwell said he does not want two construction seasons to pass before the law takes effect. So he and other supporters hope the bill will be passed early next year, with rules in place by the summer of 2014.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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