Senate Takes Up Shoreland Bill As Environmentalists Push For More Protections

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A Senate committee is spending much of the week on legislation that would establish new protections for the shorelines of lakes and ponds.

The House passed a version of the bill last month. But the compromise disappointed both environmentalists – who want to see tougher restrictions – and property rights advocates, who oppose new state regulation.

Kim Greenwood is staff scientist and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. She told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that buffer zones of vegetation along shorelines are the most effective way to protect water quality. 

"There are hundreds or thousands of studies that show that this is what we need to do. It is the single best tool we have to protect our lakes," she said.

Greenwood asked the Senate Natural Resources Committee to re-instate tougher language contained in the original House bill.

The bill first called for restrictions on new development within 100 feet of the water’s edge on Vermont lakes, and for preservation of most vegetation along the shore.

Now it calls for a state permit for new buildings located within 250 feet of the water.

Greenwood says that permit could still allow houses and other development close to the lake shore.

 "We feel very strongly that the bill needs to have some minimum level of protection," she said. "This is how it started out in the House, with, for instance, the 100 foot setback and then the 250 foot zone." 

Bennington Senator Robert Hartwell chairs the Natural Resources Committee. He said the House bill could allow two construction seasons to pass while the state crafts the new permit program.

"I’m just quite frankly more concerned about the second construction season, when you’re going out now almost two years on the process," he said. 

Hartwell said property owners may rush to build before the new regulations take effect. But he said the problem can be addressed if the state Agency of Natural Resources drafts interim regulations to address lakeshore development.

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