Vermont House advances lakeshore protection bill
By DAVE GRAM
The Associated Press | March 28,2013
Houses line the shore of Woodbury Lake in Woodbury. The Vermont House has modified a bill aimed at enhancing the protection of Vermont’s lakes from the effects of some shoreline development.
MONTPELIER — A proposal to increase the protection of Vermont’s lakes from the effects of some shoreline development took a step forward Wednesday in the House, but environmental groups said the effort was significantly weakened.
Supporters said their aim is to move away from the sloping lawn down to a stone barrier along the water’s edge as the classic image of lakefront lot design, and in the direction of woods down to the water’s edge, with a natural give-and-take of water and wildlife between the lake and the surrounding land.
The original bill banned major construction within 100 feet of the water, allowing some tree-cutting to enhance views, and smaller construction of such items as paths to the water, small sheds and gardens.
A permit would be required for work within 100 to 250 feet of the water.
But the version advanced by the House on Wednesday dropped the 100-foot construction ban.
Though it maintained the 250-foot permit requirement, it left the rules governing those permits to drafting by the state Agency of Natural Resources.
That drew fire from critics who complained of a “blank check” being granted to the agency. “I have no idea what I’m voting for,” said Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre Town. “That’s no way to legislate.”
The bill’s changes were the result of an attempt to compromise with municipalities and property rights advocates, said Rep. Kate Webb, a Shelburne Democrat and a leading sponsor of the bill, which won preliminary approval on a 105-42 roll call vote.
She said members of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee had “struck the best balance we could to achieve an 8-1 committee vote addressing the rights of property owners, the desire for local control and the compelling evidence that we could no longer maintain the status quo.”
Supporters of the measure said New Hampshire and Maine regulate building on lakefronts more than Vermont does and that legislation in Vermont was overdue.
Under the measure, the Agency of Natural Resources would have two years to adopt rules. Cities and towns could adopt bylaws accomplishing the same protections; state rules would apply if they don’t.
Environmental groups criticized the measure. Anthony Iarrapino of the Conservation Law Foundation said his group worried that the two-year hiatus while the agency drafts rules will invite a building boom by property owners who want to beat the rules.
Jake Brown of the Vermont Natural Resources Council called the House bill weak, saying he hoped it can be strengthened in the Senate, where the bill heads next if, as expected, it wins final approval today.