Keeping a healthy, diverse, vegetated upland buffer adjacent to a coastal wetland can lessen erosion and protect property. Without a buffer, development disturbs the fringing marsh boundary and may also compromise the wetland's ability to store floodwaters. Fertilizer usage can degrade marsh vegetation and allow colonization by invasive species. If you live on or near a coastal wetland, try to maintain, to the maximum width practicable, a naturally vegetated, woody upland buffer between the “developed” (planted lawn or infrastructure) portion of your property, and adjacent coastal wetlands. Other things you can do include:
- Enhance the width of existing buffers with native vegetation.
- Minimize disturbances adjacent to coastal wetlands.
- Limit planting and maintenance of lawns and subsequent use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
- Remove invasive species within the buffer, especially common reed (Phragmites australis), preferably without the use of pesticides.
- Limit the amount of unnatural freshwater runoff (or stormwater) directed into coastal wetlands from the adjacent uplands.
- To avoid impacts to surrounding development, do not block the flow of floodwaters that naturally drain into the wetland.
A great general resource for buffer management is from the Save the Bay Narragansett Bay Backyards on the Bay Yard Care Guide for the Coastal Homeowner.
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. Individuals experienced with coastal regulations may not need to consult officials in all cases; however, if in doubt seek regulatory advice before proceeding with a project.
2) Obtain an environmental assessment from a certified engineer, landscape architect, or other qualified professional. 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 or flooding, as well as flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
4) Develop a mitigation plan if implementation of one or more “best management practices” is recommended. 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. Good plans will also benefit the construction contractor and can help prevent costly mistakes.
5) Be Neighborly. If the plan involves work at or near a property boundary, or planting vegetation that 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. Local shoreland zoning ordinances may contain requirements for vegetation removal and re-planting.
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, 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. Typically work within 25 feet of the highest annual tide line is not allowed under permit-by-rule, however there is some exception for disturbances associated with establishing vegetation. An individual permit will be required for any plan that does not qualify for permit-by-rule. 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 coastal stabilization projects and the implementation of “best management practices.”