Shoreline bill to go easier on landowners
A House committee will hold a hearing this week on a bill that calls for new protections for the shorelines of lakes and ponds.
The measure requires lakeshore buffer zones for new development to prevent pollution run-off. But some property owners are concerned that the bill would infringe on their property rights.
Westminster Democrat David Deen is chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. The veteran legislator worked on the bill with the Shumlin administration. But Deen said the legislation is now being rewritten to reflect the concerns of property owners.
ďI donít think weíre going to give up on the notion behind the bill. But weíre going to soften it. It will be a much lighter touch in terms of what people ... can or canít do on their property,Ē he said.
According to Deen, the basic idea of the legislation is to use natureís own pollution controls to protect water quality. He says trees and shrubs along the shoreline shed leaves and twigs that work to slow down and filter polluting run-off.
ďAs water comes down after a rain event, itís absorbed there. So the phosphorus stays out of the water, if youíre talking Lake Champlain,Ē he said. ďAnd sediment thatís washing off the land stays there in that undisturbed vegetated zone.Ē
Deen said both Maine and New Hampshire have strong lakeshore protections laws. The Vermont bill in its current draft says the Agency of Natural Resources will write new rules requiring buffer zones along the shoreline for new development.
Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said existing camps and cottages would be exempt.
ďWhat they call nonconforming uses would be left alone, for now. Although if someone were going to make a substantial change in their property that might trigger a requirement for putting in place some additional vegetation,Ē he said. ďBut thatís one of the issues, frankly, that the Legislature will need to wrestle through. Our proposal is still being developed. The main thing is to make sure we donít make the problem worse.Ē
The problem, Mears said, is a lakeshore construction boom with new lots that are cleared right to the waterís edge. That allows run-off to flow right off manicured lawns and into the lake.
But some lakeshore camp owners donít like the idea of new state regulation. Jamie Longtin is president of an association that represents camp owners on Sunrise, Sunset and Perch lakes in Rutland County. He wants the state to crack down on pollution from existing sources, such as a dirt road that routinely washes silt into Sunset Lake. Longtin said the bill could restrict property rights.
ďAs far as I look at it, itís a taking of your land. And the Constitution, Article 2 of the Constitution of Vermont, describes taking of your land as when the government asserts control over your property. And I think we view this as a taking by the state,Ē he said.
Deen, the billís lead sponsor, said Vermont law has long recognized that property rights do not include the freedom to pollute public waters.
ďYour rights end right at the end of my nose,Ē he said. ďAnd itís like any other public trust resource, whether itís air or water. You donít have the right to pollute my water.Ē
Still, Deen said heís heard the criticisms. He said the new bill will be tailored to allow a more site-by-site review of projects, rather that mandating a specific distance for a lakeshore buffer zone.
Deen said the new draft should be available for the public to review at a hearing set for Tuesday evening at the Statehouse.
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