Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Governor vetoes Hertz’s lakeshore bill

Editor | May 18, 2023 12:00 AM

Last Thursday, Gov. Greg Gianforte vetoed Senate Bill 301, sponsored by Polson Sen. Greg Hertz regarding structures built in the Lakeshore Protection Zone.

In his veto, the governor said the law would have created one set of rules for properties with noncompliant structures built before Jan. 1, 2023, and created another set of rules for those built after Jan. 1.

“Government should not create different sets of rules for different classes of landowners,” he wrote.

The legislation would have prohibited local governments from taking actions to ensure that docks, retaining walls, roads and other lakeshore structures built before Jan. 1 comply with current lakeshore regulations. Those structures, instead, would have been “grandfathered in.”

The bill would also have made “ongoing maintenance, remodeling, or minor modifications” (under $10,000) “exempt from lakeshore protection review unless the activity involves significant excavation, dredging, or an in-fill of material or otherwise significantly impacts water quality.”

In his veto letter, the governor noted that while the legislation allowed local governments to take enforcement actions against structures that “were constructed illegally and cause material harm to lakeshore stability, water quality, or aquatic life," the exception was too narrow to comply with Montana law, which prohibits structures that interfere with navigation or lawful recreation, diminish fish or wildlife habitat, create a public nuisance or are discordant with scenic values.”

Gianforte also wrote that by creating an permitting exemption for “minor modifications,” the bill opened up a potential loophole for serial “minor modifications.”

The legislation also would have undermined Lake County’s Lake Shore Protection Regulations, which are authored and updated by the Lake County Planning Board and approved by the county commissioners.

Polson City Manager Ed Meece, who testified against passage of the bill, supported the governor’s veto, saying it aligned with “opposition testimony provided by the City of Polson, and others.”

“SB 301 would have made enforcement in the Lakeshore Protection District difficult, negatively impacting the health of Flathead Lake, and potentially creating a bad precedent for similar types of zoning and protection districts,” he wrote in an email response.

Steve Russo, chair of the Lake County Planning Board, was also supportive of the governor's veto, calling SB 301 "unnecessary and an intrusion into local government authority."

Russo noted that existing and proposed new Lakeshore Protection Regulations already grandfather in structures built prior to the regulations.

"Amnesty for landowners that have illegally developed in the protection zone would be a slap in the face to the huge majority that have applied, received permits and followed the regulations," he added. "Lakeshore Protection Regulations have been in effect for 40 years and are one of the reasons we still have a beautiful, clean, healthy lake and strong real estate values."

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