50-foot rule for shore owners

Thousands of shorefront property owners and builders across the state are on a crash course to understand a new permit system that goes into effect tomorrow.

Effective July 1, a state shoreland permit is required for excavation, filling and construction within 250 feet of shore if minimum standards for maintaining the lot’s natural state are not met. Those standards are outlined in the new Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (RSA 483-B).

The state Department of Environmental Services is offering one-hour information sessions at town halls across the state to walk property owners through the rule changes and how they might affect that gazebo, driveway, deck or swing set project.

Property rights advocate Tom Thomson of Orford said he has heard from many property owners concerned about the changes; he has called DES Commissioner Tom Burack and asked for a one-year moratorium on implementation.

“It’s creating chaos,” Thomson said. “The majority don’t have a clue of what is happening July 1 and when they do, they will go wild.”

One of the big changes is that after tomorrow, no houses can be built within 50 feet of shore.

Towns such as Franklin and Northwood had allowed structures to be built within 20 feet. Meanwhile, Merrimack and other communities with existing setback requirements greater than 50 feet get to keep those. But for the rest of the state, 50 feet is now the limit.

Sen. Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, a candidate for governor, said he attempted to delay the changes until the fall to aid property owners. The original implementation date was set for April, but a compromise set its effective date for July 1.

“We didn’t get it right and it has caused a lot of concern,” said Kenney, who noted there was “this mad rush to get this into law.” He expects future legislation to retool or repeal the measure.

Jared Teutsch is president of the New Hampshire Lakes Association, which represents lake groups across the state. He said the membership is generally supportive of the measure, which seeks to maintain water quality. The DES information sessions for property owners have been helpful, he said.

“While change is difficult, this teaches them what they can do themselves to protect their asset,” he said.

Some property owners said a half-hour on the DES Web site is enough to come away understanding the general standards they must follow.

Tree-cutting rules are most strict within 50 feet of shore. But they relax between 50 and 150 feet, giving property owners more latitude than in the past to create a view line from the camp, said Darlene Forst, the DES shoreland program supervisor.

She said many people are reacting out of fear. Once they understand the new rules, she said, they will find them less restrictive than the old ones.

“It’s a lot easier to understand,” she said. “It’s not about prohibiting actions, it’s about management.”

Bill Kaiser of Tuftonboro owns 15 acres and 306 feet of shore on Lower Beech Pond.

He said he went to an informational session in Wolfeboro last month but became confused by the point system being used to determine how many trees he needs to keep along the shore.

“It is impossible to figure out unless you are an engineer or a scientist,” he said.

“My basic thing is that the restrictions are so strict. In my mind it constitutes a taking of personal property which, according to the Constitution, is illegal without compensation,” Kaiser said.

He said he opened up a driveway for a pipe he needed before July 1, so he didn’t have to hire an engineer or spend $100 for a permit.

“I thought about hiring an attorney and taking this to court because it is an infringement on personal freedom,” Kaiser said.

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