DES Plans Campaign on Shoreline Rules

Concord — August 30, 2007 — Faced with a raft of oversized home renovations, particularly along its southern lakes and ponds, New Hampshire is reaching out to educate local officials as it prepares to implement a new set of shoreline construction restrictions.

On July 1, the state Legislature passed various amendments to the 1994 Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act that simplify some protections while redefining others. But costly confusion over key restrictions in the original legislation concerning construction within 50 feet of lakes and ponds has the state saying it is time local officials became better acquainted with the provisions of the act.

“The problem in the southern part of the state is many of the homes within 50 feet of the water were built prior to 1994,” said Jim Martin, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Services. “Those preexisting homes can make renovations, but you can’t just tear down a house and put up a bigger one. That’s what we hope to prevent by better education.”

The cost of the confusion has been high for residents, and state and local officials.

In Kingston, Bill Brouck and his wife and five children were forced from their home seven months ago following a state stop-work order on their 3,000-square-foot renovation on Great Pond. They had all their local permits in order and began renovations on their house, not realizing they also needed state Shoreland Protection Act permits, according to their attorney, Michael Hatem of Salem, N.H.

There are about a dozen other houses on the same pond that might be facing similar violations, according to the town health officer, Laurence Middlemiss. And there are many more reports of such violations across the state, Martin said, with just one state environmental agency staffer to investigate.

“Our investigators are out straight with investigating these complaints,” he said. “We’re receiving complaints about this pretty much on a daily basis.”

With the new regulations going into effect in April of next year, the state decided it was time to do a little outreach. While many of the rules for implementation and enforcement of the amendments are still being drafted, the state is moving ahead with its efforts to explain what’s already in place, said Arlene Allen, outreach coordinator for the environmental agency.

The department is going to first focus on training staff at the state’s Regional Planning Commissions. The regional officials will then set up workshops for town officials to explain how they can deal with the new amendments and how the amendments will affect to waterfront development in their towns. In spring, before the amendments go into effect, it’s hoped that local officials will go to the state agency’s headquarters in Concord for other workshops.

“People that attend those workshops will get everything they need to know to enforce these state laws,” Allen said.

Allen’s office is also planning presentations at conferences held by the state’s Office of Energy and Planning and the New Hampshire Land Surveyors Association. The state also wants to tap nonprofit organizations like the New Hampshire Lakes Association and the New Hampshire Planners Association for help in getting the message out.

“People have to be aware that these laws have been put in place for the betterment of the lakes. We don’t relish going out and investigating these issues,” Martin said.

The focus of the outreach effort is to curb pollutants going into New Hampshire ponds and lakes. The pollutions control measure in the CSPA amendements focus on septic systems, which must be more carefuly contructed under the new amendments and stormwater runoff, which can carry bacteria and lawn fertilizer into the water.

The amendments to the act focus as much on limiting new construction along state ponds and lakes as helping homeowners offset the environmental impact of their projects, said Darlene Forst, Shorelands Program supervisor for the environmental agency. That can be done, she said by limiting or eliminating storm water runoff, planting native species, and minimizing pavement and other impervious surfaces in their building plans, she said.

Another amendment includes removing complex land-clearing formulas better suited for large forestry operations and replacing them with formulas focused more on limiting storm-water runoff.

Perhaps most important, Forst said, is that any new construction within 250 feet of a freshwater shore will now need a Shoreland Protection Act permit along with any state wetlands permits the project might require. When duplicate permits are needed, however, there will not be duplicate fees, Forst said.

“We’ve had a complete and absolute overhaul of the system and it’s an improvement over what we had,” Forst said.

“The problem is the level of the permits needed for shoreline work,” he said. “Homeowners are often not adequately advised that they have to go up to the state for additional permits. The discussions between the state and town need to be better.”

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