- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A state Senate committee is nearing completion of its work on House-passed legislation that would provide protections for lakeshore lands and near-shore waters.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee engaged in some spirited debate Tuesday, mainly between Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, and Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Rodgers said he’s worried about harming private property rights, and Snelling said changes pushed by Rodgers would defeat the environmental protection purposes of the bill.

Rodgers, a stonework and excavation contractor who has worked on lakeshore properties, said he wanted property owners to be able to back pickup trucks down to the water’s edge to launch boats or put docks in place. Snelling expressed surprise and dismay.

“I want this law to accomplish, to do something to help the water, and we can’t do all the same things we’ve been doing and accomplish that,” Snelling said.

Throughout the committee’s discussion, Rodgers directed his comments and questions to property owners’ rights. When the discussion turned to moving disturbances to natural land and vegetation “as far as possible” from the water’s edge on some lots, Rodgers asked, “Does the cost to the landowner bear anything on this process?”

In a later interview, Rodgers argued the bill appeared aimed at forcing landowners “to maintain their property as a wildlife habitat rather than private property.”

Supporters of the bill say it would bring a relatively unregulated Vermont in line with what’s required on lake shorelines in New Hampshire and Maine. Areas where land meets water are said to be crucial nesting and breeding grounds for a range of wildlife. Backers have taken to hearings photos showing lakefront homes with paved boat ramps and stonewalls along the water’s edge.

The House version of the bill gave broad leeway to the state Agency of Natural Resources to write new rules for lakefront development, which appeared to bother both supporters of stricter regulation and property rights advocates.

The Senate bill would establish 250-foot buffer zones around lakes of “protected shoreland area” and would require those building within those zones to get special permits from the Agency of Natural Resources. Clearing of property within the zones would be limited to 40 percent of the lots.

Further restrictions would apply within 100 feet of the water. For instance, the bill calls for a “well-distributed stand of trees adjacent to a lake.” A point system would be required for the trees, according to their diameter, with each 25-by-25-foot area required to have a minimum of 12 points. This could be accomplished if the 25-by-25-foot area included one tree 12 or more inches thick, for eight points, and another 8 to 12 inches thick, for four points.

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