Dunes contain a reservoir of sand that is released to the beach during storms, providing a natural buffer from storm damage. Preserving or enhancing dune systems can help protect coastal property, especially in areas with low or moderate erosion. Sand dunes are dynamic features and will erode or move landward over time. Any dune preservation, enhancement, or reconstruction activities need to keep in mind that the landform is mobile.
Protecting Dunes: For areas with existing dunes and low erosion rates, simply preserving dunes might be all that is needed to help maintain protection from storms. Other options include planting dune grass, erecting fencing, building dune paths and walkovers.
Constructing Dunes: Property owners can work together to increase or create dunes as a protective measure. Teaming with your neighbors can help defray construction costs, and create a more storm-resistant dune. Dune construction requires, at a minimum, a Permit by Rule from the Maine DEP, though larger projects may require an individual permit. Dune activities are limited by specific timing windows, mostly related to seasonality of plants and threatened or endangered species such as least terns or piping plovers. Most activities are restricted to the periods from March 1 to April 1, or from October 1 to November 15. Refer to the Natural Resources Protection Act for more information specific to certain types of activities that could impact threatened or endangered species such as piping plovers. If these species are present, it's likely you have been made aware of this. In these cases, consultation with state and federal wildlife agencies will be needed before action can be taken.
Further guidance regarding dune construction, fencing, and management is provided by the Maine DEP in a technical guide on dune management and construction. Additional resources are provided in the references section.
Follow the steps below to gain the environmental and regulatory information needed for decision making. The steps are listed in general order although some steps may be conducted concurrently.
1) Contact local, state and/or federal regulatory officials for advice on applicable regulations before proceeding with a dune restoration project.
2) Obtain an environmental assessment from a certified engineer or other qualified professional with expertise in coastal geology and ecology. In most cases local, state, and/or federal regulators can help direct you to the best professional discipline to assist with your specific project. Sometimes it is helpful to have the consultant completing the environmental assessment and the construction contractor present at regulatory consultation meetings.
3) Evaluate your risk. Check your insurance coverage to make sure you have adequate liability coverage related to loss due to shoreline erosion, as well as flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
4) If dune enhancement involves work below or within 75 feet of Highest Annual Tide (HAT) or within a mapped sand dune system, develop a site stabilization plan. The plan does not need to be prepared by a professional in all cases; however, a good, clear plan can improve the efficiency and timeliness of any permitting that may be required. Good plans also will be beneficial to the construction contractor and can help avoid costly mistakes during the construction process.
5) Be Neighborly. If the plan involves work at or near a property boundary, or a new dune or vegetation may affect an abutter’s “viewshed,” consider sharing the plan with the abutter(s) to make sure they fully understand the work to be performed and the potential impact to their property. This consultation is a courtesy at this stage, and not a regulatory mandate; however, obtaining “buy in” from abutter(s) can potentially avoid neighbor disputes that may lead to costly permitting and/or construction delays.
6) Need a local permit? Share plans with local code enforcement in order to determine what, if any, town ordinances may need to be followed to complete the work. Local shoreland zoning requirements may apply.
7) Need a state permit? If the plan involves alterations within 75 feet of highest annual tide (HAT), within or adjacent to another protected natural resource as defined by the Maine Natural Resources Protection Act such as a sand dune, or within a development permitted by the Site Location of Development Act, a state permit will likely be required. When possible, plan to meet standards of a permit-by-rule to simplify the state regulatory review process; otherwise an individual permit may be required. Alterations to a development or a lot within a development permitted under the Site Location of Development Act may require the revision or amendment of the development’s permit.
8) Need a federal permit? If the plan involves work below the highest annual tide (HAT) and/or in a freshwater wetland or habitat for endangered or threatened species, a federal permit(s) under the Federal Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act may be required. Share the plan with all applicable federal authorities in order to determine what permits may be necessary.
9) Hire qualified contractors who are experienced with the best practices associated with construction in or adjacent to natural resources.