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 Vermont did put shoreland standards in the statutes in 1971 but these were repealed in 1976.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.