No new seawalls may be constructed along Maine’s beaches or sand dune system. The Maine Geological Survey estimates that about half of Maine’s sandy beaches are armored with “hard” engineering structures like seawalls that limit the natural ability of beach and dune systems to move in response to storm events and maintain themselves by exchanging sediment.
In an emergency, a property owner can make temporary fixes to an existing seawall to protect private infrastructure from storm damage. The specific activities are outlined in the Natural Resources Protection Act (Title 38 Section 480-W). If you have questions about an emergency, temporary fix to protect your property, contact local, state and/or federal regulatory officials for advice on applicable regulations before proceeding.
Normal maintenance of existing seawalls does not generally require a permit. Maintenance includes activities that do not alter the overall size or location of the seawall, and that involve work on less than 50% of an entire seawall structure. Alterations to more than 50% of a seawall structure are considered to be a replacement of the seawall, which will require a permit. Any modifications to the design of an existing seawall that will alter the size and location of the structure will require a permit. Again, contact local, state and/or federal regulatory officials for advice on applicable regulations before proceeding with seawall maintenance or repair.
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. Begin by working with your local code enforcement office to determine if your property is in a FEMA-mapped flood zone and if so, what building requirements apply.
2) Obtain an environmental assessment from a certified engineer or other qualified professional with expertise in coastal geology. 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 seawall replacement is planned 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, 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 when moving structures. Local shoreland zoning requirements will determine the acceptable location(s) for structures.
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.