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Editorial: A goal for shorelands bill: Do no harm

If the Senate, as expected, tables further discussion on H.526, a bill written to protect the state’s shorelands and help improve the clarity of lake water, two outcomes are certain: 1) better explanation of the legislation will temper the animosity that has riled so many lakeshore property owners, and 2) the legislation will undoubtedly undergo further modifications to prevent overkill and to hone in on what it hopes to accomplish.
The primary purpose of the legislation is to restrict landowners’ ability to develop their properties in ways that undermine the health of the lake. Few landowners around any body of water would disagree. How that is achieved, however, could vary widely from one body of water to the next — and the legislation should be drafted accordingly.
If storm water run-off from street-scapes and cities is a focus of concern (and the waterfront around the greater Burlington area is certainly affected by this), then such rules should apply to that area. Larger bodies of water in the greater Champlain Valley and around Lake Memphremagog that are affected by urban and farm runoff, for example, also face different issues compared to lakes situated in the mountains and are surrounded on all sides by steep mountainsides. An effort should be made to redraft the legislation with such distinction.
We would also hope the Legislature takes it upon itself to adopt a twin goal: do no harm. Like cleaning up the water quality, this should be a universally accepted premise.
Adopting this twin goal would also encourage the Legislature to understand the unintended consequences such legislation could have, and look for ways to accomplish the same tasks through other means, such as lake associations and community involvement for the smaller lakes, rather than by state mandate.
Finally, there is the issue of cost. It should be mandatory that the legislation include a budget for implementing enforcement by the state. Perhaps if cost were part of the conversation, the scope of the legislation would be more pragmatic.
Angelo S. Lynn

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