The Word in the House 4/18/2013 - Protecting Our Shorelands

Charlotte residents have had a wonderful opportunity to learn about the nature of our local streams and habitats through the monthly WatershED events organized by Joanna Cummings.  Lake Champlain is a priceless resource for Charlotte, and we need to protect its waters as well as recognize the challenges of doing so.  I’ve received several inquiries about the Shoreland Protection Bill, H.526, and its implications for Charlotte, so I will explain why the bill is important and what it does.

Lake Champlain is, of course, the largest of Vermont’s lakes.  However, there are hundreds of smaller lakes and ponds in Vermont whose water quality is equally important.  Many of these bodies feed streams and rivers that empty into Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog, or the Connecticut River.  Vermont has fallen behind in shoreland protection, not only in the northeastern states but in the nation as well. Only 17% of Vermont shoreland is in good condition compared to 42% regionally and 35% nationally. While New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut all have shoreland protection standards, Vermont does not. Vermont did put shoreland standards in the statutes in 1971 but these were repealed in 1976. Maine and New Hampshire borrowed our statute language to create their own in 1971 and now boast lakes and ponds of significantly better health than ours. 

H.526 seeks to provide standards for shoreland development to provide adequate vegetative cover to filter out the effects of nutrients, phosphorus, sediment, organic matter, pesticides and other pollutants.  Setbacks for buildings and impervious surfaces are an important part of the equation.  A 100’ vegetative buffer absorbs 73% of run off; a lawn only 18%.  When a shoreline is cleared, it opens the floodgates to 18x more sediment, 5x more runoff and 7x more phosphorus.  Furthermore, overhanging branches help to keep the water cool and prevent algae and plant growth that thrive in warm sunny places. They provide critical habitat for aquatic life, an early signal of a lake’s deterioration. A natural shoreline is necessary for species such as loons, kingfishers and otters.  The deep and diverse roots of trees and shrubs also promote bank stability and flood resilience by protecting banks from erosion.  Better lake quality also improves and maintains better property values.

To accomplish these goals, H.526 does the following:

  • Requires after January 1, 2015, a permit from the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for the creation or expansion of more than 500 square feet of impervious surface (buildings or clearings) within 250 feet of the mean water level of a lake that is greater than 10 acres in surface area.
  • Requires ANR to adopt standards for the construction of impervious surface in a protected shoreland area by January 1, 2015, with public participation by affected stakeholders and other interested persons through hearings and other forms of communication.
  • Delegates permitting authority to municipalities provided that the municipal standards are at least as stringent as those adopted by ANR.
  • Requires municipalities without shoreland development standards to adopt standards in conformance with ANR standards by January 1, 2015.
  • Grandfathers shoreland development existing before January 1, 2015.
Exceptions to shoreland development standards were allowed for certain emergency repairs to adjacent roads or property and for areas of the state where mosquito populations create a public health hazard provided that Vermont wetland rules are followed.  Charlotte already has a 100 foot setback requirement for shoreland development.  Regulations regarding thinning and pruning will need to be developed, but Charlotte will likely be a allowed to administer its own regulations.  ANR has provided an excellent FAQ (frequently asked questions) document to which I have provided a link at my website.

Much of the quality issues surrounding Lake Champlain are due to the tremendous amounts of nutrients flowing into the lake from rivers and streams.  H.526 has been criticized for not addressing those sources of pollution.  As Representative David Mears Dean* (Chair of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee) stated, we have only a limited amount of time in the legislative session, and this piece of the water quality issue was all the committee had time to work on this year.  The committee intends to work on a corresponding rivers and streams bill in 2014.

I have heard from many of you on a variety of topics and continue to welcome your input. I will be at the Charlotte Library on Saturday, April 20, from 10 AM until noon if you would like to meet with me. You can email me at or call me at 425-3960.

* Note: I mistakenly used the name of the Commissioner of the Vermont Dept of Environmental Conservation in my article published in the April 18, 2013, issue of The Citizen.

Legislative Report 4/11/2013 - Painting Vermont Green

April is the month when we feel like we’re taking a ride on Mother Nature’s yo-yo.  We get a string of balmy weather followed by a dip back into winter’s grip.  With the lengthening days, the trend is definitely moving to warm, however, and we are beginning to see the tulips peek out from the mulch and the buds beginning to appear on the trees.  The cold nights and warm days have been good for sugaring, too.

It’s time to clean up the yard and start planning to spruce up the house inside and out as well.  Some folks will soon be thinking of throwing a coat of paint on the siding or brightening up a couple of rooms with a fresh coat of color.  Chances are, after the painting is done, they’ll have quite a bit left over that will either get stored in the basement for touch-ups later on or else be disposed of, and how it gets disposed of is a growing concern.

It is estimated that about 1.6 million gallons of paint are purchased each year in Vermont, and ten percent, or 160,000 gallons, goes unused.  In Chittenden County the Solid Waste District (CSWD) has a recycling program for leftover paint that gets blended and resold as its “Local Color” product.  It is not only an environmentally friendly way of disposing of a hazardous waste product, but it keeps this toxic material out of precious landfill space and helps reduce the cost of recycling for the district. 

Not all areas of Vermont have access to such a program, however.  At present Vermont recycling programs recover about a third of this unused paint at a cost to taxpayers of about $230,000. The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee worked with the American Coatings Association and CSWD to introduce a paint recycling bill, H.262, that will be voted on this week.  If this bill is adopted into law, Vermont will become the 5th state to pass a paint product stewardship law, following the lead of Oregon, California, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Under the proposed bill, manufacturers would add a recycling assessment to the wholesale price of each gallon of paint. Manufacturers would collect this assessment from distributors and pay it to a paint steward. In California and Oregon, manufacturers pay the assessment to a non-profit paint steward called “PaintCare”. The recycling assessment would be embedded in the wholesale cost of paint and would be passed down to consumers.  PaintCare assessments are $.75/gallon and $1.60/5-gallons in California and Oregon.

The manufacturers’ paint steward would be responsible for submitting a recycling plan to the Agency of Natural Resources. The steward’s plan would need to describe how used paint would be collected, transported and recycled; would need to include educational efforts to inform consumers about collection opportunities for used paint; and would need to establish a collection network for used paint. The collection network would need to be convenient, and would need to include Vermont’s existing household hazardous waste infrastructure as well as any Vermont retail paint store that wants to serve as a collection center at no cost to the retail store.

The plan would also be required to establish a funding mechanism, including a schedule of assessments, which would be paid by the manufacturers to the paint steward. The assessments would be allowed to cover, but not exceed, the costs of the recycling program.  The assessments would have to be approved by the Agency of Natural Resources which would report the proposed assessments back to the Legislature by March 2014.  Finally, the paint steward would be required to pay a fee to the State of Vermont of $15,000 a year to cover the Agency of Natural Resources’ costs of reviewing the recycling plan and assessments.
You can reach me by phone (425-3960) or by email (

The Word in the House 4/4/2013 - Improving a Law Enforcement Tool

In a previous article I wrote about a bill that passed the House, H.522, that addressed opiate addiction and methamphetamine abuse.  That same bill also addressed a problem connected to drug abuse, the problem of home break-ins targeting jewelry and other precious metals.  

Most of the break-ins and other property crimes that seem to have proliferated over the last few years are related to substance abuse.  Thieves will grab anything that looks valuable and try to get rid of it as quickly as possible for cash to score their next fix.  In a recent case in Alburgh, thieves stole more than $200,000 worth of gold coins from a vacant house and sold the coins to coin and jewelry dealers around Chittenden County.  Second-hand coin and jewelry dealers are one of the first places thieves go to try to cash in their booty. One dealer notified police after becoming concerned about the number of coins coming in.  Only $5000 worth of coins was recovered by police.

Two years ago I introduced a bill that would require better record-keeping by second-hand dealers, including photo ID information from the seller, a description of the items being sold, and a requirement to hold onto the items for at least 10 days before reselling them.  These provisions were added in 2012 to a bill seeking to address similar problems with stolen copper.  That bill passed and was signed into law.  Since then enforcing compliance has been a problem, and antiques dealers found reason to object to a provision that made it difficult to comply when they bought items in an estate sale. 

As a result, based on input from the Vermont State Police and the antique dealers association, a bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes), Herb Russell (D-Rutland) and myself to improve the law.  VSP Trooper Ben Katz was instrumental in providing advice on beefing up the recording requirements and enforcement provisions.  The House Judiciary Committee held extensive hearings on our bill, H.287, and incorporated it into H.522, which passed the House and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill now requires all “precious metal dealers,” defined as someone who has a physical presence in Vermont, either temporary or permanent, and is engaged in buying and selling precious metal (excluding bullion or commodities, new metal, and medical and dental applications), and who purchases or sells more than $2000 worth of precious metal in a 12 month period, to obtain a license.  The annual fee for the license is $200.  A license cannot be approved or renewed if the licensee commits a felony or violates any of the provisions in the law after October 13, 2013.  The “temporary presence” provision is important to capture those dealers who come into Vermont and set up shop on a weekend at a hotel or mall and then leave the state in a few days.

Licensees will be required to keep more detailed records of their transactions.  Each item they take in must be assigned a unique item number.  If several items are purchased at the same time from the same person, they are assigned a lot number, and each item is assigned a sub-lot number.  For each item or lot, the following information needs to be kept:

  • the amount paid and the date and time of the transaction,
  • the name, current address, phone number and vehicle license number of the seller,
  • a legible description of each item including any identifying marks,
  • a digital photograph or video of the item,
  • a photocopy or image of a government-issued ID card of the seller or, if no ID is available, a digital photo of the seller’s face, and
  • documentation of ownership or an affidavit of ownership.

Any dealer doing more than $50,000 of precious metal business in a year must keep these records in a computerized format that can be accessed by law enforcement when requested.

Some additional provisions include requiring a dealer to use a certified scale when buying precious metals by weight, to make all payments by check, draft or money order, and to hold the item for at least 10 days before selling it or moving it out of state.  Also, a dealer can no longer buy from an individual under 18 years of age without written permission of a parent or guardian.  Finally, if a dealer suspects illegal activity, they are required to notify local law enforcement authorities and provide the record of the transaction.  Violations of these provisions will incur substantial penalties, including $10,000 for the first offense and $50,000 for subsequent violations, so licensees will now be required to be bonded up to $50,000. 

Between the controlled substances provisions and the provisions described in this article, H.522 should provide important law enforcement tools that will hopefully curb much of the property crimes that have proliferated throughout Vermont.

I have heard from many of you on a variety of topics and continue to welcome your input. You can email me at or call me at 425-3960.

Interview with Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia

Click here to view the interview
State Representative Mike Yantachka (D-Charlotte) interviewed Commissioner Chris Recchia on the Chittenden County Democrats Show.  The show airs live at 5:25 PM on the first Monday of each month at the CCTV Channel 17 studio in Burlington. 
Commissioner Recchia and Rep. Yantachka discussed the different roles of the Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board.  Video is compliments of CCTV , channel 17, Burlington, VT.