The coast of Maine is a busy place. From property owners to fishermen to surfers, people traveling to and from the water are addressing coastal access issues in their communities.
A legal research team led by Maine Sea Grant, the University of Maine School of Law, and the law firm of Bernstein Shur has identified existing and potential tax tools that can or could be used to benefit working waterfronts and water access in Maine.
Coastal property values reflect "highest and best use" pricing and a high demand for waterside locales, and so coastal properties often have proportionately higher taxes. Stories of long-time landowners becoming priced out of their properties and needing to sell have become all too familiar. Traditional working waterfronts are often the losers in this scenario, especially during times of economic declines and shifting fisheries regulation.
In 2007, Maine’s “current use” programs that reduce tax burdens for property supporting tree growth, farmland, and open space were expanded to cover waterfronts that provide access to or support commercial fishing and aquaculture activities.
The new research revealed a host of other lesser known or potential tax tools that could provide benefits to municipalities and individuals looking to promote coastal access and working waterfronts.
For example, in the same way that working waterfronts were added to Maine's existing current use program, other existing tax policies could be used to benefit coastal access. Income tax incentives, property-related tax tools, and a charitable donation for working waterfronts are all examples of potential new tools.
“We hope Maine towns will use this research on new tax tools to inform decision-making on working waterfront and coastal access policies, to help communities plan their future,” said Kristen Grant, a marine extension associate with Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension based at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Additional partners in the research include Maine Coastal Program, Island Institute, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Details on using tax policy for coastal access can be found in the "Coastal Access Toolkit."