Vermont panel debates lakeshore protection bill

Friday March 1, 2013

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Rep. David Deen has taken recently to showing off a two-sided sheet of paper containing eight color photographs of Vermont homes: four showing lakeside cottages nestled in trees with natural vegetation between them and the water’s edge; the others showing big houses on denuded lots separated from the water by stone barriers.

The chairman of the state House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee displayed it again Thursday as his committee heard testimony on new regulations on the design of lakefront properties -- hearing support from environmental groups and complaints from property-rights advocates.

"Our lakes are deteriorating, and the prime example of course is what’s happening with Lake Champlain," said Deen, D-Westminster.

The lake has been beset by increasingly frequent algae blooms that environmental advocates blame on phosphorus-laden runoff from farms, lawns and parking lots -- all problems they maintain could be helped by keeping the water’s edge as natural as possible.

The bill would call for the state Agency of Natural Resources to write new rules requiring buffer zones around the edges of lakes, areas where natural vegetation would predominate, stopping runoff from immediately entering waterways. Existing lakeside cottages would be exempted, unless they were being enlarged or undergoing other substantial changes.

The bill would not halt all construction of new lake houses, but would require developers to get a permit from the state agency. Lakeside development currently is mainly regulated by local zoning, which is said to be spotty.

Supporters of the bill say a well-vegetated water’s edge is crucial for water quality and native fish: Trees drop leaves and twigs into the water, attracting bugs, which in turn provide food for fish. Shade from trees keeps the water cooler, good for most northern species, and the vegetation filters runoff.

The changes have drawn the ire of some lakeside property owners, who complain that they would bring unwarranted government intrusion into owners’ enjoyment of their properties.

"When you’re on the lake, you pay an extremely higher property tax, because it has value to the town," said Jaime Longtin, president of an association of property owners on Sunrise, Sunset and Perch Lakes in Rutland County. The new regulations would be "taking away a huge portion of your ability to manage your own property," he said.

Paul Saenger, chairman of the Select Board in Shoreham and an owner of a house on the town’s Lake Champlain shore, operates summer boat tours on the lake. He said a study commissioned by the town showed the proposed restrictions would diminish the value of its 135 lake-front properties and force significant tax increases for all property owners.

But Anthony Iarrapino, clean water advocate with the Conservation Law Foundation, argued that preserving water quality is a key to protecting the value of lakefront homes.

"Nobody wants to live in or rent a place on a lake where the water is foul," he said.


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