WILMINGTON -- This legislative biennium produced a new law that will affect those who want to develop on lake-front properties. It also will require towns to decide whether to enforce new regulations or allow the Agency Natural Resources to do it.
"The goal is slowing run-off into lakes," said state Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington. "The agency is prepared to do these information sessions and to help towns set up with what I refer to as deferral towns that want to take over enforcement."
The lake shoreland protection bill was signed into law the morning prior to the Wilmington Selectboard meeting Hartwell visited on June 4. It passed in the House of Representatives in 2013, then the Senate in 2014. The law will go into effect on July 1 but towns will not be punished for not enforcing it by that date.
According to the Agency of Natural Resources, the intent is to protect water quality, aquatic and wildlife habitat and bank stability while also protecting the uses and values of lakes. The new law was designed with Lake Champlain in mind.
"Our real hope is to have a lot of vegetation in front of the water itself," Hartwell said at a previous meeting.
Certain projects will need to be registered with the Shoreland Permit Program. There will be a 100-foot vegetated buffer zone. A permit may be needed for the clearing of vegetation and development within 250 feet from the mean water level of a lake.
Hartwell said approximately 900 people interested in lakes or ponds had weighed in on the bill before it was passed.
Four lakes located in Wilmington will require enforcement. There are the larger ones: Lake Raponda and the Harriman Reservoir. Then there are the smaller bodies: the 28-acre Haystack Pond and 14-acre Spruce Pond.
Waters must span greater than 10 acres to require permitting. Other Windham County towns with lakes or ponds fitting that description include Athens, Brattleboro, Dummerston, Grafton, Guilford, Halifax, Jamaica, Londonderry, Marlboro, Newfane, Rockingham, Somerset, Stratton, Sunderland, Townshend, Vernon, Whitingham and Windham.
For enforcement, the Legislature came up with wording for how closely a local ordinance should match up with state law.
"’We ended up with ‘functionally equivalent.’ The agency favors this deferral process to allow towns to accept the responsibility to administer this law," said Hartwell. "I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult to do."
Selectboard member Susie Haughwout was not so sure about that and said she thought the law was a little heavy-handed for Lake Raponda.
"I don’t like the enforcement side," Haughwout added. "We need to do a lot more homework before we adopt (an ordinance)."
Hartwell expect there will be an informal review from time to time, in which ANR would determine whether permits were issued on a "functionally equivalent" basis. There would be no fine as a penalty for incorrect permitting.
"They can take away the program. That’s the recourse," he said.
Suggesting the town use a template for a permitting put out by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Hartwell said he thought the town could issue permits quicker than the state that way. He also said ANR agreed with the format of the template.
Before leaving, Hartwell told the board he could be available in the summer for a work session to address enforcement further.
"I think this is going to work," concluded Hartwell. "And I think it would work better if the towns will take the deferral."
At a future meeting, the board will discuss the possibility of adopting an ordinance into its zoning bylaws that could make the zoning administrator responsible for enforcing the law.