Permitting & Rules

Local, state, and federal regulations govern activities on coastal properties. Here are some suggestions to make understanding them easier:

  1. Identify your property type and the hazards you face.
  2. Speak early and often to town officials and state agency staff.
  3. Weigh the risks, with help from a certified geologist, licensed engineer, or other expert.
  4. Consider your options for taking action.
  5. Determine setbacks and other permit requirements.

Shoreland Zoning
Maine Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA)
      Permit-by-Rule (NRPA)
      Tier Wetland Permit (NRPA)
      Individual Permit (NRPA)
      Coastal Sand Dune Rules (NRPA)
      Wetland Protection Rules (NRPA)
      Assessing and Mitigating Impacts to Existing Scenic and Aesthetic Uses (NRPA)
Site Location of Development Act (Site Law)
Erosion and Sediment Control Law
Federal Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act
Water Quality Certification

Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act
By law, all Maine towns and cities adjacent to the ocean, lakes, rivers, and some streams and wetlands, are required to have a local Shoreland Zoning Ordinance. All local ordinances must be compliant with the minimum standards outlined in the Shoreland Zoning Act. If a project is located wholly or in part within a Shoreland Zone, the "district designation" assigned by the municipality will determine if the project is an allowed activity and which standards apply. Allowed activities and building standards may differ between district designations. Copies of the local Shoreland Zoning Ordinance are available from the town office.

The width of the Shoreland Zone varies by community, so check with local code enforcement for specific guidance. Typically, the Shoreland Zone is all land areas within

The Shoreland Zone does not represent the setback for structures. Setbacks are based on district designations and adjacent resources. Also note that vegetation removal within the Shoreland Zone is limited and may require a permit. The Maine DEP has released a Citizen’s Guide to Shoreland Zoning which helps explain zoning districts and regulations.

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Maine Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA)
The NRPA is a state law (38 M.R.S. § 480 et. seq.) which regulates protected natural resources such as rivers, streams, great ponds, freshwater wetlands, significant wildlife habitats, fragile mountain areas, sand dunes, and coastal wetlands. Alterations to lands in or within 75 feet of one of these resources may require a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (but some activities are exempt, see section 480-Q). If an activity is not exempt, a permit is required prior to beginning construction. Depending on the sale and scope of the activity, a Permit-by-Rule (permitting for de minimus or routine activities), a freshwater wetland Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 Permit, or an Individual NRPA Permit will be required.
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Permit-by-Rule (NRPA Chapter 305)
The Natural Resources Protection Act Chapter 305 Permit-by Rule Standards (CMR 06 096 Ch 305) contain an expedited permitting process that typically applies to de minimus or routine activities, provided they are undertaken in a manner that minimizes the impacts on the affected natural resource(s). The permitting process requires the submittal of a Permit-by-Rule Notification Form to Maine DEP, along with a nominal permit fee and a description of the work to be performed. In order to qualify for a Permit-by-Rule, the project design must be able to be constructed in accordance with the prescribed standards outlined by the appropriate section(s) of the Chapter 305 Rules. Standards are categorized by project type and it is possible to design a project that qualifies in more than one section, so be sure to read all the sections. For example, a typical shoreline stabilization project may require filing under Section 2, “Activity adjacent to a protected natural resource,” and Section 8, “Shoreline stabilization.” Permit-by-Rule notifications are processed by DEP within 14 days of receipt. The DEP does not typically notify the applicant of an approval, so it is recommended that notifications be submitted by certified mail with a return receipt request so that the applicant can track the 14-day review time. If a permit is rejected by the DEP, the applicant will receive written notification with an explanation for why the notification was rejected.

In an emergency situation where action needs to be taken quickly to avoid slope failure or excessive erosion, a Notification can be hand-delivered to the appropriate DEP office and approved immediately. If this is necessary, please contact the office and arrange an appointment with staff to ensure that someone will be available to look at the notification.
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Tier 1, Tier 2 & Tier 3 Freshwater Wetland Permit (NRPA)
Activities in freshwater wetlands that do not qualify for the “minor impacts to freshwater wetlands” exemption in the NRPA will require a Tier wetland permit. The tier permit required is based on the size and location of the wetland to be affected. Freshwater wetlands located within the Shoreland Zone are classified as wetlands of special significance and typically require a Tier 3 wetland permit; however, some activities can be waived down to a Tier 1 or Tier 2 permit by state regulators. Tier Permit applications must be processed by DEP within 45 to 120 days of submittal depending upon the proposed activity and application fees vary. The applicant will receive a written permit decision from DEP upon completion of permit review.
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Individual Permit (NRPA)
An individual permit is required for all projects that require alteration in or within 75 feet of a protected natural resource and which do not otherwise qualify for an exemption or the Permit-by-Rule permitting program. Individual permit applications must be processed by DEP within 120 days of submittal. The typical review takes between 45 and 90 days, depending on the complexity of the application, so plan ahead to allow enough time to complete the regulatory review before the desired construction time. The application fee will vary depending upon the activity being proposed. The applicant will receive a written permit decision from DEP upon completion of permit review.
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Site Location of Development Law
Alterations to a development or a lot within a development permitted under the Site Location of Development Law may require the revision or amendment of the development's permit. The Site Law requires developments of state or regional significance which may substantially affect the environment to obtain a permit from the State of Maine or delegated municipality prior to construction. The law typically applies to developments that encompass greater than 20 acres of land, contain greater than three acres of structure (roads, buildings, parking, etc.), or residential and commercial subdivisions. Once a development has been permitted under the Site Law, alterations to the development typically require a revision or amendment of the permit. For example, if a shoreline stabilization project is proposed on a lot within a Site Law subdivision, a minor revision to the permit will be required. This minor revision will be in addition to any permits required under the NRPA. Minor revision applications must be processed by DEP concurrently with any required NRPA permits in accordance with the longest review time, so plan ahead to allow enough time to complete the regulatory review before the desired construction time. There is a minimal application fee for a Site Law minor revision application.
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Coastal Sand Dune Rules (NRPA Chapter 355)
Chapter 355 of the Natural Resources Protection Act provides regulatory guidance for projects proposed within Maine's mapped Coastal Sand Dune System. The boundaries of the Coastal Sand Dune System are portrayed on the Maine Geological Survey Coastal Sand Dune Geology Maps. Note that these maps have been updated in digital format and are available upon request to the Maine DEP, MGS, and most town offices. The maps include the boundaries of the frontal dune and back dune systems, in addition to a defined Erosion Hazard Area, which is the predicted shoreline location in 100 years, combining the impacts of sea-level rise, short-term erosion, and long-term erosion. Refer to the Coastal Sand Dune Rules for specific text supporting the definition. 
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Maine Wetland and Waterbody Protection Rules (NRPA Chapter 310)
The Natural Resources Protection Act Chapter 310 provides regulatory guidance for projects proposed within and adjacent to Maine's protected water resources, such as rivers, streams, great ponds, freshwater and coastal wetlands. Wetlands and waterbodies may occur within a mapped Coastal Sand Dune System, so both Wetland and Sand Dune Rules may apply in some locations. In situations where both sets of rules apply, a project must be designed in conformance with both. If permits are required under multiple sets of rules, applications must be submitted concurrently to DEP for review. 
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Assessing and Mitigating Impacts to Existing Scenic and Aesthetic Uses (NRPA Chapter 315)
The Natural Resources Protection Act Chapter 315 Assessing and Mitigating Impacts to Existing Scenic and Aesthetic Uses Rules provide regulatory guidance for projects located within the jurisdiction of the NRPA and which will be visible from a set of designated scenic resources of significance. Coastal Wetlands, for example, are listed as a scenic resource of significance, therefore any project that requires an Individual Permit under the NRPA for impacts to the coastal wetland and which will be visible from the coastal wetland, must be evaluated to ensure that its design conforms to the scenic guidelines and principles outlined in the rule. The methods used to evaluate projects potential scenic impact is outlined in the rule.
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Erosion and Sediment Control Law
The Erosion and Sediment Control Law requires that anyone who conducts an activity involving filling, displacing, or exposing earthen materials take measures to prevent unreasonable erosion of soil or sediment beyond the project site or into a protected natural resource. Learn more about creating an erosion or site stabilization plan.
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Federal Clean Waters Act and Rivers and Harbors Act
Sections of the federal Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act govern activities within coastal wetlands (and therefore waters associated with beaches) and tidal creeks and adjacent rivers. Permits are administered by both the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Federal permitting includes comments provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Text supporting both of these Acts can be seen at the Wetlands Regulation Center.

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act requires an Army Corps permit for any work in navigable (tidal) waters below the mean high water line. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires an Army Corps permit for the discharge of dredged or fill material into US waters.  

The US EPA maintains good information describing the overall laws and applicable regulations that pertain to federal permitting of activities within waters of the United States. 

It is the responsibility of the property owner to determine if federal jurisdiction applies to a proposed project. State regulators may be able to provide some general guidance; however, the final determination of jurisdiction must be obtained from the federal agencies.
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Water Quality Certification
An applicant for a federal license or permit to conduct an activity that may result in a discharge to a navigable water of the United States must supply the federal licensing authority with a water quality certification from the State of Maine that any such discharge will comply with state water quality standards. The federal license or permit may not be issued until water quality certification has been issued or waived. The water quality certification is automatically included with any state permit that involves a discharge to a navigable water.
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Erosion Mitigation/Site Stabilization Plans

When regulatory and professional consultations lead to a recommendation that one or more erosion Best Management Practices (BMPs) be considered, an erosion mitigation or site stabilization “plan” should be designed. The plan should include a detailed plan sheet(s) depicting the property boundaries and the location of all proposed BMPs, and a description of the work to be performed. The plan does not need to be prepared by a professional in all cases; however, the quality and clarity of the plan will generally improve the efficiency and timeliness of any subsequent permitting that may be required from local, state, and federal authorities. Good plans will benefit the construction contractor and can help avoid costly mistakes during the construction process.

Professional Assistance

Professional expertise in the disciplines of both coastal geology and biology will be needed in all coastal types for an environmental assessment. A landscape professional (architect or engineer) will likely be needed for the creation of mitigation plans.

Environmental Professionals:

The causes and likely consequences of an erosion issue are often difficult to diagnose; therefore, assessment should be completed with the assistance of a professional familiar with coastal erosion and the implementation of Erosion and Sediment Control Best Management Practices (BMP’s). Consulting firms may be able to provide site-specific investigations with state-licensed geologists, soil scientists, or engineers. In some cases, staff from the Maine Geological Survey or the Soil Conservation District may be available to provide low- or no-cost consultation and explanation of existing resource information.

Certified Professional in Erosion & Sediment Control:

This organization develops and maintains standards and procedures for certifying persons who are qualified to practice in the fields of erosion and sediment control, and maintains a list of certified professionals for Maine.

The Maine NPS Training Center also maintains a list of contractors and companies that are voluntarily certified in Maine’s erosion and sediment control BMPs.

Regulatory Assistance

 local | state | federal

Local Officials:

The project may be subject to local ordinance and may possibly require a local permit. Contact the local Code Enforcement Officer early in the process to seek advice regarding project design and permitting. For work in a Special Flood Hazard Area, the municipality (generally the Code Enforcement Officer or Planning Board) is responsible for permitting development. The municipality is responsible for knowing where the flood zones are located, permitting development in a flood zone, and building standards for development in a flood zone.

State Officials:

In many cases, state resource agency or regulatory staff are available to visit project sites at no charge and provide a verbal and/or written field determination or advice. Staff can recommend possible solutions, as well as describe which regulations apply and what permits may be necessary for a chosen action.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regional “on call” staff (based in Portland, Augusta, and Bangor) are available to assist property owners in evaluation of erosion issues and navigating the state permitting process. When contacting Maine DEP regarding a shoreline erosion issue, ask to speak with the “on call” person in the Division of Land Resource Regulation.

DEP also provides assistance through the Nonpoint Source (NPS) Training Center, via workshops, various publications, and a video lending library.

The Maine Floodplain Management Program at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry can offer assistance with identifying if property is in a flood zone, if a municipality participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and with interpreting federal regulations and building recommendations, such as the Coastal Construction Manual.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) can offer disaster and mitigation assistance.

Federal Officials:

Staff at the US Army Corps of Engineers are available to help property owners navigate the federal permitting process.

Regional staff from the US Fish and Wildlife Service are available to answer questions about endangered species.

Staff from the US Environmental Protection Agency are available to help answer questions about federal regulations and permits.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can offer technical assistance, insurance assistance, and guidelines for development concerns in coastal flood zones.

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