WILMINGTON -- In January, the Senate may pass legislation that will cut down on the amount of development that can be done near bodies of water.
On Oct. 16, state Sen. Bob Hartwell updated the Wilmington Selectboard on ongoing legislative discussions for a proposed bill that could affect property owners on Lake Raponda.
"Unfortunately, Vermont's water quality situation is not particularly good," he said. "When you look at New Hampshire and Maine, it's kind of disturbing what they've been able to accomplish."
Hartwell was referring to lake and shoreland protection laws that have been in place in those states. He said Maine and New Hampshire's regulations have worked well and Vermont is in the process of adopting similar regulations.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has suggested a model ordinance related to this bill, which may even be enacted before the legislation is passed. Some towns have already begun to adopt regulations similar to those found in this bill.
Hartwell told the Selectboard that the House of Representatives had thrown in "tremendous testimony and work on" this bill.
"The shoreland protection legislation passed by a pretty big margin," he added. "It provides some standards that we're going to have to deal with."
According to the statute as passed by the House, "this bill would require the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt by Jan. 1, 2015 rules establishing shoreland protection standards for areas -- known as protected shoreland areas -- within 250 feet of the mean water level of a lake.
By that date, a permit would be required from ANR "for new or expanded impervious surface or cleared area in a protected shoreland area."
If municipalities have a bylaw by that time, authority will be delegated to those participating governing bodies. Otherwise, ANR will accept or deny applications.
According to the legislative findings, the bill would assist with preventing water quality degradation, maintain healthy habitat and promote flood resilience.
It stated that keeping the shorelines naturally vegetated and implementing improved management practices would help "intercept and infiltrate surface water runoff, wastewater and groundwater flows from upland sources ... remove or minimize the efforts of nutrients, sediment, organic matter, pesticides and other pollutants ... moderate the temperature of shallow water habitat ... maintain the conditions that sustain the full support of aquatic wildlife and habitat uses and promote stability and flood resilience by protecting shoreline banks from erosion."
"Our real hope is to have a lot of vegetation in front of the water itself," said Hartwell. "This is where the House decided to start to address the water quality. I think it'll get better if we do this."
After visiting Wilmington's Lake Raponda, Hartwell believed there wasn't much of a concern, as compared to Lake Champlain, where runoff has caused disruption in the habitat.
"I went around Lake Raponda and thought it was really good," said Hartwell. "The vegetation along the line does not appear to be threatened."
Selectboard member Susie Haughwout asked why the town would administer the permits if the state would be creating its own regulations.
"The agency will have rules," Hartwell replied. "(One) advantage is the town is onsite and can watch more carefully ... Some towns want that."
Another advantage is that the town may have the ability to respond to applicants sooner than ANR would.
"When we first heard about the law, our concern was that we have a beach," said Selectboard Chairwoman Meg Streeter of Green Mountain Beach at Lake Raponda. "This law doesn't really want sandy beaches with sediment going into the lake... (But) existing development won't have to be changed, so we won't have to mitigate?"
Hartwell said developments would only have to meet these regulations moving forward. Existing developments may stay unchanged.
Streeter asked if there was any fear that the town would have to stop allowing its residents to use the beach.
"That is not our intent ... One thing that we're sensitive about is not breaking down public access," said Hartwell.
Selectboard member Jake White asked if the permitting process authority was given to ANR, if it would hold up the process, comparing it to the current situation with Act 250 permitting.
"We intend to take this up in the Senate ... (setting) a reasonable time frame for a response," said Hartwell. "That is definitely an issue we will take up. I am committed to work on that."
He informed the board that there had been six meetings around the Senate to explain the bill. There will be another hearing in Montpelier in early January, when the Legislature is back in session.
The bill was passed by the House after being read for the third time on Mar. 28. The Senate read the bill on April 2, when it was then referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.
"There will be a report compared by the accounts of the lawyers," said Hartwell. "My anticipation is that they can look at this bill at the third week of January."
He said if people want to, they can attend the hearing and testify.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.