[box]Shoreline homeowners, marinas to face less red-tape when rebuilding, protecting their properties.[/box]
Inspired in large part by the harrowing experiences Connecticut’s shoreline residents have lived through in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, the state Senate unanimously passed a comprehensive bill Tuesday night that aims to ease the permitting process for shoreline property owners.
“Over the past two years, Connecticut’s shoreline has been pummeled by two of the most severe storms our state has ever seen. This bill is a reflection of what shoreline residents, legislators and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) have learned through that experience. Among other things, the bill will ease restrictions on shoreline homeowners looking to rebuild their homes and properties. It also makes common sense changes to our laws that allow shoreline residents to better protect their properties in the event of future tropical storms or hurricanes,” said state Senator Len Fasano (R-North Haven), who co-sponsored the bill and led bipartisan negotiations in the legislature.
Key provisions of the bill (S.B. 1012), include:
Removing elevated decks from the Coastal Area Management provision. This means that local government, rather than DEEP, will have jurisdiction over these structures.
Encouraging beach renourishment, as opposed to beach hardening. DEEP will now be a repository for certain information with respect to dredging material that municipalities and certain flood erosion districts could use for beach replenishment. Only certain sands can be used to replenish certain beaches. This provision will make it easier for towns to find the right match and more cost-effectively acquire the sand they need.
Grandfathering in docks built prior to 1995. If a property owner owns a dock built prior to 1995, DEEP can no longer order it to be taken down, and the owner can perform certain maintenance on it with Certificate of Permission (COP) as long as the owner demonstrates substantial compliance with existing environmental laws.
More flexibility to protect properties in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm. If there is a hurricane or tropical storm warning, shoreline property owners will have the right to protect their property in any way they deem necessary without a permit for a period of 24-hours prior to the storm. Artificial structures and protections must simply be taken down 48 hours after it is deemed practical to do so. This new right extends to all inhabited structures on the property, including detached garages and pools.
An appeal process for COP denials. If someone is denied a COP by DEEP, this bill creates a process in which the applicant can appeal to the office of adjudication. In the past, applicants had no other recourse but to resubmit. Under the new bill, the applicant can meet with the office of adjudication, thereby providing an avenue for open dialogue and compromise.
Recourse to challenge a full permit denial. Under the bill, if a shoreline property owner is denied a full permit by DEEP for an engineering issue, the applicant would now have the right to seek help from the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE). For a fee of no more than $1500, CASE would review the issue that led to the denial. If CASE disagrees with DEEP, there would be a hearing to resolve the matter.
More discretion for DEEP to forgive a “notice of non-compliance.” Not all violations of DEEP regulations are equal. For example if a homeowner loses three bricks of a seawall in a storm and performs a repair without a permit or COP, he is technically guilty of the same violation as someone who lost 300 bricks and repaired his wall without a permit. This provision would give DEEP the discretion to forgive the former offense and it would give anyone who receives a notice of non-compliance the right to challenge their notice with someone in management level within DEEP.
“We have worked very hard to balance environmental concerns with the rights of property owners in developing this legislation,” said Senator Fasano. “No one got everything they wanted and I’m sure we will continue to refine and improve our laws as new challenges dictate. But, I think we struck the right balance and I’m proud to have passed this bill with unanimous bipartisan support.”
Senator Fasano thanked DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty, Deputy Commissioner Macky McCleary, and Director of Government Affairs Rob LaFrance, as well as state senators Steve Cassano, Ed Meyer, Andrew Maynard, Clark Chapin, and state Representative Jim Albis, who chaired the legislature’s Shoreline Preservation Task Force, for their contributions to the bill.
The bill, S.B. 1012, now heads to the state House of Representatives where it is expected to be voted on before the General Assembly’s June 5th adjournment.