State of the Beach/State Reports/ME/Shoreline Structures

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Maine Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access52
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures 3 2
Beach Ecology5-
Surfing Areas25
Website6-


Policies

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) regulates development on natural resources, including coastal and dune system, and coastal wetlands through the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) and the Coastal Sand Dune Rules. The policies ban new coastal engineering structures such as seawalls and groins, except for the limited maintenance and reconstruction of such structures, as long as it is the same dimensions as the original structure. Riprap and sandbags are allowed in certain circumstances to reduce the impacts of erosion.

In 1995, Maine modified the NRPA to allow existing seawalls and other shoreline stabilization to be fortified and built bigger/stronger to protect existing threatened oceanfront development. This was contrary to the sand dune rule that promotes retreat from erosion-prone areas (Bernd-Cohen and Gordon, 1999).

In 1999, the Legislature modified the NRPA (Section 480-E, 9) to prohibit the MDEP from denying a NRPA permit for reconstruction of a structure, including a structure destroyed by an ocean storm, solely because the structure is located in an area designated a V-zone after January 1, 1999.

Natural Resources Protection Act

State law requires a person to obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection for any activity located in, on or over any protected natural resource, including coastal and dune system, and coastal wetlands. The Act specifically states that construction of any permanent structure requires a permit. (Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 5-A §480-C).

Riprap, sandbags or other heavy nonhazardous material can be placed to alleviate threat to the existing structure in an emergency. Seawalls, retaining walls or other structures can be strengthened and secured in an emergency situation. (Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 5-A §480-W).

Coastal Sand Dune Rules

The Coastal Sand Dune Rules further define the policies set forth in the Natural Resources Protection Act. New seawalls are not allowed to be constructed under these rules. However, emergency structures are exempt to this rule as stated in the Natural Resources Protection Act.

The Coastal Sand Dune Rules also state that a permit is not required for maintenance or repair activity to a structure that has been destroyed less than 50%.

Maine amended the Coastal Sand Dune Rules in 1989 and 1993 to broaden and clarify requirements for development on sand dunes. The revisions allowed seawalls and other shoreline stabilizations to be fortified and built bigger/stronger. Further revisions were made in 2004 and 2006 that prohibit the construction of new seawalls and place restrictions on when existing sewalls can be altered or replaced.

E. Seawalls and similar structures. No new seawall or similar structure may be constructed. No existing seawall or similar structure may be altered or replaced except as provided below, and as allowed under Chapter 305, Permit By Rule and 38 M.R.S.A. 480-W.
(1) Permanent alteration of different dimensions or location. With a permit from the department, a seawall or similar structure may be replaced with a structure of different dimensions or in a different location that is farther landward if the department determines that the replacement structure would be less damaging to the coastal sand dune system, existing wildlife habitat and adjacent properties than replacing the existing structure with a structure of the same dimensions and in the same location.


Note: The department encourages landowners to consider removing a seawall or similar structure and covering the area with sand and dune vegetation, or replacing the structure in a more landward position to reduce its influence on the beach and sand dune system.


A proposed piece of legislation, L.D. 1218, would have allowed the owner of a residential property to build, repair or replace a permanent barrier to protect the property from natural disaster. It was scheduled to be presented in mid-April 2009 at a State House public hearing before the Legislature's Natural Resources Council. "It's a 180-degree reversal of our policy in the state of Maine and it would be detrimental to our beach system," said Stephen Dickson, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey.

Inventory

Shoreline protection structures have not been mapped for the entire Maine shoreline. The majority of southern Maine’s beaches were mapped by the Maine Geologic Survey Beach Scoring System. This system looks at various morphologic and physical characteristics of the beach, allows the Survey to look at individual features, and enables us to score beaches in terms of overall need of management. As part of this project, shoreline development was mapped on aerial photographs. Beach length and percent armoring were mapped at Reid State Park, Popham Beach, Sewall Beach, Saco Bay (Camp Ellis Beach, Ferry Beach State Park, Bayview, Ocean Park, Old Orchard, Grand Beach, Pine Point, and Western Beach), Scarborough (Scarborough Beach, Higgins Beach), Biddeford (Hills Beach, Fortunes Rocks, Goose Rocks), Goochs Beach, Drakes Island, Wells Beach, Moody Beach, Ogunquit, and Short Sands/Long Sands Beaches in York. Approximately 40.3% (12.3 miles of 30.5 miles) of the surveyed beaches are armored.

According to the Maine Geologic Survey, it is estimated that approximately 50% of the sandy beaches along Maine's coastline are stabilized. Much of Maine's sand beaches include seawalls erected by property owners over several years to protect property from storm-related erosion. However, under current law new armoring is very limited and rebuilding existing seawalls is limited to pre-storm dimensions.

Riprap is still commonly used to "stabilize" eroding bluffs. Maine's experience with vegetated "soft" solutions that offer longer-term protection and create wildlife habitat is limited.

Information on the Website of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District includes a Powerpoint presentation dated February 22, 2006 that indicates that in order to address ongoing erosion at Camp Ellis Beach, several structural alternatives were being considered, including a spur jetty, an offshore breakwater, a combination of the spur jetty and breakwater, and T-head groins. Additional breakwater alignments closer to shore were also being evaluated. An article in Seacoastonline dated February 15, 2007 indicated that the Corps had identified three potential strategies. Two of the plans involve building a 500-foot spur jetty off the existing jetty and either two or three segmented offshore breakwaters. A third plan calls for just a 750-foot spur jetty. All the plans call for periodic beach fill projects. The city of Saco reportedly favors a different plan with four additional breakwaters and a jetty because of the lower projected maintenance cost. Their preferred alternative would cost an estimated $25 million, with maintenance costs of $600,000 per year. The Corps' preferred alternative would cost $17 million but have higher yearly maintenance costs. Also see the Maine Update Report.

Additional information on this project appeared in an October 2013 article in The Journal Tribune.

"The federal government has appropriated $26.9 million for a project to offset beach erosion in the Camp Ellis area caused by the Saco River jetty, which extends into Saco Bay from the mouth of the Saco River. The jetty was built in the late 1800s to create a smooth shipping channel. A proposed project by the Army Corps of Engineers would add a 750-foot-long spur jetty, attached perpendicular to the existing Saco River jetty, about 1,475 feet from the shoreline, and would also reinforce about 400 feet of the existing jetty. Maintenance, after the proposed construction is completed, would include beach nourishment – sand being put back on the beach – about every 12 years. Federal funds may be left over after construction for the first and second beach nourishments, according to city documents."


The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.


Contact

Jeff Madore, Director
Permitting Division
Bureau of Land and Water Quality
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
17 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

Peter Slovinsky, Coastal Geologist
Email: peter.a.slovinsky@maine.gov
Maine Geological Survey
Department of Conservation
22 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0022
(207) 287-7173 phone
(207) 287-2353 fax
http://www.maine.gov/doc/nrimc/mgs/mgs.htm

Perception of Effectiveness

For years, there has been considerable debate about Maine's retreat policy, which at one time prohibited the reconstruction of buildings in frontal dunes that were damaged by more than 50% of their value. The revised Coastal Sand Dune Rules cover reconstruction as follows:

D. Reconstruction of buildings not severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm. Reconstruction of a building not severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm must meet the following standards.

(1) The building must be moved back from the beach to the extent practicable, as determined by the department given setback requirements and site limitations. If it is not practicable to move the building farther back from the beach, then the building's footprint must be reconstructed in the same location or a location no farther seaward than the previously existing building.

(2) The area and dimensions of the footprint of the building may not exceed the area and dimensions of the footprint of the previously existing building when the building is reconstructed in the same location. The area of the footprint of the building may not exceed the area of the footprint of the previously existing building if the building is moved farther back from the beach.

(3) The height of the building may not exceed the height of the previously existing building unless the project proposes a vertical addition that meets all the requirements of Section 6(B)(4) or to elevate the building to meet the requirements of Section 6(G).

Nothing in this subsection prohibits the reconstruction of a porch that does not exceed the dimensions of the previously existing porch.

Note: An alternative option to rebuilding may be available in the form of funding from state and federal programs that acquire storm-damaged properties from willing sellers. Information on current programs may be obtained by contacting the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

E. Reconstruction of buildings severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm. Buildings that are severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm and that are being reconstructed must meet the standards outlined in subsections 1-5 below. A building may not be reconstructed more than once in accordance with this section if the building is located in a V Zone. A building located outside a V-Zone may not be reconstructed more than once without complying with the standards outlined in Section 6(F).

(1) The building must be moved back from the beach to the extent practicable, as determined by the department given setback requirements and site limitations. If it is not practicable to move the building farther back from the beach, then the building's footprint must be reconstructed in the same location or a location no farther seaward than the previously existing building.

(2) The area and dimensions of the footprint of the building may not exceed the area and dimensions of the footprint of the previously existing building when the building is reconstructed in the same location. The area of the footprint of the building may not exceed the area of the footprint of the previously existing building if the building is moved farther back from the beach.

(3) The height of the building may not exceed the height of the previously existing building except as necessary to elevate the building to meet the requirements of Section 6(G).

(4) If any part of the previously existing building was located in a V-Zone, then the building must be designed and configured to minimize or eliminate the building footprint's intrusion into the V-Zone to the extent practicable, as determined by the department given setbacks and site limitations.

(5) A severely damaged building located within the V-Zone that is reconstructed completely outside of the V-Zone pursuant to this section is eligible for further reconstructions pursuant to Section 6(F) after subsequent severe damage by wave action from an ocean storm, should it occur.

F. Reconstruction of buildings severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm that have already been reconstructed once. Buildings in the frontal dune, but outside of the V-Zone that are severely damaged by wave action from an ocean storm must meet the following minimization and mitigation standards.

(1) The building must be moved back from the beach to the extent practicable, as determined by the department given setback requirements and site limitations. To determine whether the building is moved back to the extent practicable, the department may consider, but is not limited to:

(a) Whether the applicant has applied for a variance to reduce the setback required by the municipality; and
(b) Whether the applicant has attempted to buy additional land from abutters that would allow the building to be moved farther back.

(2) The total area to be covered by the footprint of the reconstructed building or buildings may not exceed 20% of the total area of the lot. Land area within the V-Zone may not be included as part of a lot for the purposes of this subsection. No more than 500 square feet of additional development may occur on the lot.

(3) The applicant must mitigate, to the extent practicable, for impacts to the coastal sand dune system caused by structures on the applicant's lot, as determined by the department. To determine whether the applicant has mitigated to the extent practicable, the department may consider, but is not limited to:

(a) Whether areas of the lot not covered by development are being restored to the lot's natural dune topography and planted with native vegetation.
(b) Whether an existing vertical seawall on the lot is being removed and replaced with a structure that would be less damaging to the coastal sand dune system, wildlife habitat and adjacent properties.


Maine's approach to coastal hazards reduction has not included funding mechanisms to compensate willing sellers for relocation or buyout of properties that remain at risk. Private ownership of much of Maine's sand beach coastline prohibits public expenditures that would benefit private property owners. The lack of available funding for hazard mitigation and beach fill, combined with a strong regulatory approach, leaves property owners with little to no reasonable alternatives for protection of private property. Maine lacks the financial resources to fund expensive remedies to coastal erosion problems, including modification to engineered structures, beach fill, and dune restoration. Private ownership of much of Maine's sand beach coastline prohibits public expenditures that would benefit private property owners. Until recently, the state has not placed a priority on partnering with municipalities on effective solutions.

Since amendments were made to the Sand Dune Rules in 1993 (and further amendments in 2006), reconstruction and limited expansions of buildings that have never been damaged by an ocean storm are permitted, provided the reconstruction meets certain standards. Due to a variety of circumstances (lot size and configuration, outdated or inaccurate flood maps), rebuilding of structures in sand dune systems does not always occur in a manner and location that is safe and sustainable, given accelerated sea level rise and anticipated increased flood risk.

Public Education Program

Lack of metadata and lack of state agency policies about digital delivery of mapped information has resulted in less than optimum distribution of information about coastal hazards. MCP, in conjunction with the Maine Geological Survey, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant, and the University of Maine, has co-sponsored the Maine's State-of-the-Beaches Conference. The conference brings together scientists, beach conservation group members, and local stakeholders in order to raise awareness of beach and coastal issues. In addition to plenary sessions on various coastal topics, the conference typically includes roundtable discussions of important coastal issues, and several field trips. The 2002 conference had approximately 200 attendees.

A New Hampshire Sea Grant publication The Sand Beaches of New Hampshire and Maine provides a basic introduction to coastal erosion issues along the sand beaches of New Hampshire and Maine, including erosion causes, control efforts and consequences.

A one-hour educational documentary, Building a Resilient Coast, highlights some of the key issues and insights offered by a range of speakers knowledgeable about responding to the effects of climate change. The video, produced by Oregon Sea Grant as part of a joint project with Maine Sea Grant, is specifically intended to address the concerns and interests of Maine coastal residents as identified in preliminary focus groups and an extensive survey of public opinion and needs. More info.


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