Report from Montpelier

By Rep. Kate Webb

“Grandma Kate,” said my 5½-year-old grandson, “are you making some laws?”

My grandson has become very interested in the environment and his mom has told him about the work I do in the legislature.  He loves to explore the LaPlatte River near his house. He loves the show “Nature” on PBS and he and I share a special relationship observing the night sky. He is also a big fan of “The Lorax,” by Dr. Seuss, in part because his grandfather is a sort of Lorax who “speaks for the trees.”  The narrator of the story is the Onceler, who tells his own sad tale of using up all the resources in a beautiful area. Such wanton waste results that, in the end, there is nothing left but pollution and destruction. The Onceler tells his regretful tale, but also signals that there may be hope.

I told my grandson that, yes, I was working on laws to help lakes and ponds. He then whispered to me, “I’m making laws too.  And it’s so easy! Now with two of us making laws, the Onceler will have to listen.”

So with the voice of a child and the knowledge that we adults have many constraints that keep us from doing the right thing by the environment, we bring forth a lake shorelands bill – a compromise between the complex adult world of competing interests and the truth of the child who knows that we must be stewards of the lakes and ponds, the rivers and streams, and the flora and fauna of this beautiful state.

In early February, a bill regarding shoreland protection was sent to the Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources committee on which I serve. The purpose of this bill was to provide coordinated, scientifically based, site-specific shoreline regulation throughout the state. It was still fraught with problems. People were so concerned about the provisions of that bill that the committee decided to drop it completely and start over.

Over 11 drafts, we struck the best balance we could to achieve an 8-1 committee vote addressing the rights of property owners, the desire for local control, and the compelling evidence that we can no longer maintain the status quo. The reformed bill, H.526, is up for debate in the House this week.

Although education, technical support, and financial incentives have been in place for years, only 48 municipalities have voluntarily created standards for lakeshore development and removal of vegetation. Shelburne is one of them. Should the bill become law, Shoreland regulation in Shelburne and the 47 other communities will remain at the local level. The remaining 136 lakeshore municipalities will have until Jan.1, 2015 to set standards that address specific environmental concerns or accept regulation by the state. State standards are to be in place by Jan. 1, 2015, following a significant period for concerned citizens to weigh in.

Will this bill address all of the varying stressors affecting our lakes?  No, but it does address the damage done at the water’s edge by clearing, covering, and paving. Does this open the gates for the piecemeal standards we wanted to avoid?  Perhaps, but the purpose section of the bill should help reduce this. Does this open up two building season where people can develop like the Onceler? That remains a concern but was a concession. Did property owners get all the rights they feel due as taxpayers?  They did not, but they can still build and develop and have access and views. They can also weigh in as standards are developed. They say when no one is happy; perhaps the right balance has been achieved.

Please join Joan Lenes and me most Tuesday mornings at Brueggers at 7:30 am or by appointment. Email: katewebbvt@gmail.com. Cell: (802) 233-7798.

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