State of the Beach/State Reports/ME

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Lack of coastal access is a serious problem in Maine. The amount of private ownership along the coast and the fact that property owners may maintain ownership to the Mean Low Water Mark makes this a difficult problem to address. The state coastal program and Maine Sea Grant have been attempting to address this by holding workshops, developing a Citizen Guide and a new Accessing the Maine Coast website, and the Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter remains vigilant both in and out of court to expand the public's rights of access to the intertidal zone. In other areas; although information on erosion and other coastal hazards is plentiful, the response to this has been a large amount of beach-destroying shoreline structures. The State has worked to modify policies to encourage other alternatives to addressing the erosion problem.

Maine Ratings


(+) There are standardized statewide setback regulations that limit development along the shoreline. To inform shoreline owners of these regulations, the state provides a comprehensive guide on "shoreland zoning" which includes clear descriptions of the setback regulations along with informative figures.

(+) Construction of new seawalls and extension of existing seawalls are prohibited, and groins are illegal structures in Maine. Having such stringent measures on shoreline armoring are effective in preventing the acceleration of erosion and encourages more non-structural shoreline stabilization alternatives.

(+) In June 2014 the Northeast Regional Planning Body announced the release of easy-to-use decision support tool containing thousands of interactive maps on the Northeast Data Portal, including some of water quality data for the northeastern states from Connecticut to Maine. Based on water quality data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, some maps display No Discharge Zones, impaired waters, and wastewater discharges. Also shown on the maps are boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds in the region. To view the water quality maps, go here.

(+) The Maine Beaches Conference provides continuing opportunities for communication and exchange of the most current information among beach stakeholders with diverse interests, and presents the findings from the state’s beach monitoring programs.

(+) The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) is a state and federal partnership that facilitates the New England states, federal agencies, regional organizations, and other interested regional groups in addressing ocean and coastal issues that benefit from a regional response. It is NROC’s mission to provide a voluntary forum for New England states and federal partners to coordinate and collaborate on regional approaches to support balanced uses and conservation of the Northeast region’s ocean and coastal resources.

(+) In 2011, The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that scuba diving should be included in the common law right of the public to walk across another person’s intertidal land. The court decided that it is irrelevant whether the activity fell under one of the traditional categories of “fishing,” “fowling,” or “navigation.” Instead, the court balanced the reasonable interests of private ownership of the intertidal lands and the public’s use of those lands. While the decision was narrow, the court opened the door for possible further expansion of the public trust doctrine in Maine. See article on this in the publication The SandBar.

(+) Maine Sea Grant has developed an Accessing the Maine Coast website. This site is an information resource for coastal property owners, beach and waterfront users, public and environmental interest groups, and municipal, state, and federal governments. The site offers legal tools to address the specific coastal access questions and needs of these stakeholder groups.

(+) In 2006 Maine produced Protecting Maine's Beaches for the Future, A Proposal to Create an Integrated Beach Management Program. This comprehensive and forward thinking document is a must read for beach managers everywhere.

(+) Three bonds supporting the Land for Main's Future (LMF) Program, a $35 million in 1987, $50 million in 1999, and $12 million in 2005, have passed by overwhelming margins.

(+) A 1,910-acre riverfront property which is one of the largest undeveloped coastal properties in Maine was donated to the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which plans to preserve the land for clamming, hiking, hunting and other recreational activities. The land stretches from Route 209 to the New Meadows River, opposite Cundy's Harbor.

(+) Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization, announced in August 2006 it had raised more than $100 million to accelerate land conservation on Maine’s coast. Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s “Campaign for the Coast” is the largest land conservation capital campaign in Maine’s history.

(+) Maine has now completed the several years of its Healthy Beaches Program.

(+) $304 million has been expended through 2007 to try to eliminate Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), $23 million in 2007 alone. Twenty-five communities have completely eliminated CSOs. The number of CSO outfalls has been cut by 46% since 1989. CSO overflow volume per inch of precipitation has decreased by almost 2/3rds since 1989.

(-) Coastal property owners' property rights extend out to the mean low tide line, severely limiting public access and usage of beaches. Even though there is a public easement for "fishing, fowling and navigation," this does not include general recreational use that is common among beach-goers, such as sunbathing, surfing, and walking along the beach.

(-) Maine does not have plans for managed retreat, nor does it have any repetitive flood loss policies or programs. These are very important in planning for sea level rise and preventing damage to shoreline infrastructure.

(-) The work of former Gov. John Baldacci’s administration to develop specific ways for the state to help cities and towns cope with climate change has been halted, and results of the initial work removed from the state’s website by the administration of Gov. Paul LePage. “We made a conscious decision that [climate change] would take a back seat,” said Darryl Brown, LePage’s first Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, in an interview in spring 2011. The agency, its staff reduced by attrition, halted work on the climate change report in early 2011.

(-) As of October 2007, 11 communities statewide still had a "301 (h) waiver" allowing them to discharge primary treated wastewater into rivers or the ocean. The federal Clean Water Act (written in 1972) required all wastewater treatment facilities to upgrade to secondary treatment by the late 1980s.

(-) In March 2006 one of Kennebunkport’s Board of Selectmen opined that the easiest solution to high bacteria readings at Goose Rocks Beach “short of draining the town’s coffers” trying to identify and eliminate pollution sources would be to simply post signs reading: “No lifeguard on duty. Water quality unknown. Swim at your own risk.”

(-) Most dry beach areas of Maine's coastline are privately owned.

(-) Approximately 50% of southern Maine’s beaches are armored.

(-) In 1995 and 1999 Maine weakened its retreat policies by allowing seawalls and other shoreline stabilization to be fortified. Draft rules adopted by the Board of Environmental Protection in June 2003 would give property owners living on frontal dunes unlimited chances to rebuild if they follow certain conditions, which include getting a permit from DEP and rebuilding with "flood-proof designs" and elevated structures.

(-) Of the more than 1,500 coastal access points from Kittery to Eastport, 66 percent are privately owned.


  • Maine’s Bottle Bill, Protected! The Maine Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager to oppose LD683, an act that sought to rollback Maine's highly effective bottle bill. The Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony during hearing to oppose this bad bill, and we're happy to report that on March 24, 2017, the committee issued a unanimous 'ought not to pass' report. The bill then was placed as dead in the legislative files pursuant to Joint Rule 310.3, which means that unless 2/3 of both the House and Senate vote to do so, the bill will not be considered further. This is great news! Thanks to everyone who helped with this effort!
  • No Pay to Play Ordinance in York! At the end of 2016, the Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter successfully worked to help stop an ill-conceived ordinance that the York Harbor Board was deliberating, which would have initiated a fee structure for the public and commercial users to gain access the York River with "paddlecraft," including standup paddleboards, surfboards and kayaks. Limited parking and perceived congestion on the water prompted the proposal, which some on the Board believed would aid in improving public safety and access by limiting the numbers of recreational users on the water. What's troubling is that the proposal sought to achieve these ends by establishing a fee structure that would have made it more difficult for financially challenged families and others to access and enjoy York's waterways. A hearing was held on December 7, 2016, where voices across the issue were heard. The Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter caught wind of the situation after the hearing, and promptly issued a call to action, asking the Harbor Board to consider alternatives. Namely, we recommended that if limiting the numbers of recreational users is deemed critical, that the town work to establish a first come, first serve policy with a cap on the number of craft in the water at a given time, for the most highly trafficked times of year, but not impose a fee for public use. The public could also be encouraged to launch at different locations along the river, with the creation of a rackcard that includes a map of public access points. Second, we acknowledged that the Surfrider Foundation supports our local, eco-friendly small businesses who help teach people more ways to love recreating on the water through rentals, camps and lessons, which is vital toward creating stewards of the waterways. We also firmly believe that providing rentals of non-motorized paddlecraft for visitors (and locals who cannot afford to purchase their own or are just learning) is important for fostering the warm and friendly atmosphere of York that encourages tourism, our leading economic driver. Attempts to discourage visitation of people seeking to enjoy York's most valuable resources - the waterways - and prohibitive fee structures for our local businesses are both detrimental to the community, the economy and small businesses who rely upon tourists to thrive. We asked the Board to consider alternatives. The proposal under consideration was troublesome, as it included a cost-prohibitive fee of $86 per commercial craft, which is much more than the rental of a SUP or kayak and would be detrimental to commercial ocean industry leaders who help visitors to York enjoy their stays. Because the Surfrider Foundation believes that public access should be prioritized over commercial use of a public resource, however, the Maine Chapter did concede that it would consider supporting a permit and fee policy for commercial use, so long as that policy was reasonable and crafted in collaboration with York's affected business owners, interested citizens of York, and other affected recreational users. Many of the local businesses encourage stewardship of the waterways, and work with our chapter on beach and river cleanups, plastics mitigation, and coastal preservation campaigns. We feel that this plays an important role in keeping York's waterways, ocean, waves and beaches healthy and vibrant, and is important to maintain. We are happy to announce that the York Harbor Board decided not to pursue the ordinance as it was structured, at this time, and instead to gather more data on use of the waterways prior to advancing any future ordinance. Thanks to all who took action to help protect access!
  • Northeast Regional Ocean Planning We are pleased to announce that on December 7, 2016, the National Ocean Council certified the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, launching us headlong into a more sustainable future and a paradigm shift in ocean management that looks at the ocean holistically as a system, rather than managing piecemeal by agency, spatial boundary, specific use, threat or species. Learn more by reading (and sharing!) our Coastal Blog. Now that the ocean plan is final, the Surfrider Foundation will engage in the vital work of implementation. Our staff and volunteers will continue to participate in ocean planning meetings to improve the iterative plan so that it best represents our goals in protecting the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and recreational areas. We'll be calling upon our ocean industry leader friends - surf shop owners, kayak tour guides, beachside pub and restaurant owners, SUP racers and the like - to help us engage locally as federal and state agencies begin to fully utilize the best practices established in the plan, and integrate the inherent expertise of our coastal communities and ocean users into decision-making processes that will inform the future of the sea.
  • New England’s Canyons and Seamounts Protected! Surfrider chapters in the Gulf of Maine supported the Obama Administration in its consideration of creating the first ever Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean to permanently protect three canyons and four seamounts. Designation would help protect these special areas from threats like overfishing and mining while maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem as well as superb recreational opportunities for low impact enjoyments. New England's Gulf of Maine is home to AMAZING underwater treasurers, including deep sea canyons, which plunge to depths greater than 7,000 feet (1,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon!) and astounding seamounts (which rise higher from the seafloor than any mountain east of the Rockies!), creating unique habitats that support tremendous biodiversity and fragile ecosystems. The Surfrider Foundation supported a coalition of environmental nonprofits who championed this effort to additionally call upon the Administration to provide permanent protection for this area. Read more.
  • Single-Use Bag Ban in Freeport, Maine! The Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter supported a single-use bag ban in Freeport. A public hearing was held on May 17, and the ordinance appeared on the June 14 ballot for Freeport residents to decide the matter via a binding vote. Freeport residents spoke up in favor of the environment, passing the referendum by a wide margin of 804-501. The ordinance goes into effect on September 12, 2016, and will prohibit grocery and convenience stores (with an exemption for retail outlets) from distributing single-use plastic bags and place a 5-cent fee on paper bags. Read more.
  • Mitigate Plastic Marine Debris in Maine! The Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter supported specific recommendations in a concept draft bill to help reduce plastic marine debris in the state of Maine. The final plastic marine debris resolution passed the Maine House & Senate, and the language includes the importance of ocean recreation (Whereas, coastal residents and communities in Maine depend on healthy and abundant ocean resources for their livelihoods, recreation and ways of life)!! On February 17th, 2016 an update of "anticipated divided report" was issued, and then a recommendation to pass, as amended, came out of committee on February 26th. The House heard the bill, which is now a resolution, on March 10, and voted 100 to 40, ought to pass! The new resolution then passed on the senate floor, on motion by Senator Baker, on March 16, 2016. This is a good resolution that will spark important discussions in the state of Maine, inspiring creative thinking and action to tackle the very real threat of plastic marine debris. That's not to say the problem is solved or it's an issue for our electeds! Indeed, we can ALL take actions to help protect the ocean, every day. PLEASE rethink your consumer habits, refuse single-use plastic items and products containing microbeads, and work to reduce, reuse & recycle. Read more.
  • Support the Bag Ordinance in Falmouth! The Maine Chapter supported the town of Falmouth's Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee and area residents in their efforts to develop a single-use plastic bag ordinance. The original plan to mitigate plastic debris and encourage responsible consumer behavior in Falmouth was to phase out single-use plastic bags over the course of year one followed by a ban in year two, with a fee on single-use paper bags throughout. The Council reported out favorably on November 9, and a public hearing was set for December 14, 2015. The Council passed the single-use plastic bag ordinance in January 2016, which includes a fee on paper and goes into effect on April 1, 2016. More info.
  • Let’s be Proactive to Protect Public Access at Higgins Beach for Everyone, For Good. Pursuant to the February 17, 2015, victory (see below) protecting public access at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, the Maine Chapter offered to sit on an informal committee led by Councilwoman St.Clair. The Committee was oriented to bring concerned parties from all sides of the situation together to address the perceived behavioral issues that continue to bring restricted public access proposals to the Town Council, year after year. This was a proactive opportunity to come to the table with beachfront property owners, surfers, dog walkers and other Higgins Beach users to squash the repeated attempts at limiting public access by finding commonsense solutions we can all agree with and rally behind. Ultimately (long story short) we achieved a victory because we prevailed on maintaining the parking on Bayview starting at 6AM, and on defeating a proposal to move the current 1-hour parking to thirty minutes. The biggest threats to access were thwarted, which is a win. More details.
  • Ban the Bag in York, Maine! Surfrider Foundation's Maine Chapter supported the efforts of Bring Your Own Bag York to help pass a single-use bag ban in the town of York, Maine. While the ordinance does not include the key provision for a mandatory, uniform fee on paper bags, which would support small businesses and encourage consumers to reduce consumption of single-use bags... York, Maine voters passed the ban by a 59% approval on November 3, 2015, which is a great start. York is the first town in Maine to pass a ban on plastic bags, following momentum created by Portland and other areas that are passing fee-based measures.
  • Parking & Access Preserved at Higgins Beach! A Higgins beachfront property owner submitted a presentation to the Scarborough City Council in early 2015, showcasing invasive photo-monitoring of beach users discreetly changing in and out of wetsuits by their cars at the City's free public parking spaces off Bayview Avenue. Touting what she called "indecent behavior," the beachfront property owner called for the Town to remove the public parking spaces in front of her home. These parking spaces offer free, short-term parking with direct access to Higgins Beach, and this was not the first time they'd been under threat by beachfront property owners. The Maine Chapter rallied with local citizens including surfers, aging adults who use the parking spots to walk dogs along this popular beach, residents and other beach users to urge the Town not to restrict public access to Higgins Beach by removing parking but to instead look at common-sense solutions for perceived behavioral issues. After hearing arguments from all sides on February 17, 2015, including comments by the Surfrider Foundation, the Scarborough Ordinance Committee voted 2-to-1 in favor of dismissing the proposal to restrict access to the beach. Councilwoman St. Clair asked for Surfrider and other concerned parties to email her for inclusion on an informal committee that will meet to address perceived behavioral issues and work toward finding solutions that will maintain the public's right of access. Big THANKS to Dick LaRou & Jim Riech of Scarborough, who helped coordinate this successful campaign effort!
  • Yes on Question 6! The Maine Chapter urged voters to say YES on Question 6, on the 2014 referendum ballot...and voters agreed! Question 6 was the Maine Clean Water and Wetlands Bond Issue, asking the state to expend $10,000,000 to ensure clean water and safe communities across Maine; to protect drinking water sources; to restore wetlands; to create jobs and vital public infrastructure; and to strengthen the State's long-term economic base and competitive advantage. Way to go, Maine! Voters approved the measure by a 64.58% majority!
  • York! Quit Pushing Debris-Ridden Seaweed Into the Ocean! When Cy Zetterberg saw debris-ridden seaweed getting pushed back out to sea at Long Sands Beach in York, Maine, he took action and contacted Surfrider Foundation. Together, we worked with the Town of York, the Maine State Marine Patrol, and concerned area residents to offer common-sense solutions that allow the Town to create a user-friendly beach while also protecting the environment. Cy quickly became a core Maine Chapter volunteer and has established a cleanup effort to continue assisting the Town with removing debris from the beach and the seaweed. The town is now composting seaweed in designated areas on the beach. Win-win!
  • Rec Use Characterization Proposal The Surfrider Foundation Northeast Region is heavily engaged in Regional Ocean Planning efforts. Our goal is to be proactive in protecting coastal and ocean ecosystems and recreational areas, before they're threatened. Along with strong partner organizations, SeaPlan and Point 97, Surfrider Foundation submitted a project proposal for the Northeast Regional Planning Body's RFP, to develop products characterizing spatial patterns of coastal and marine recreational activity in New England. Our proposal was selected, and we will be leading the way for everyday ocean recreation users - like surfers, beach strollers, wildlife watchers, kayakers and divers - to fill a data gap in the Northeast that will assist ocean planners in considering recreational areas as they plan to organize for current and future uses of the sea. Contact our Northeast Regional Coordinator for more information:
  • EPS Food Packaging Ban in Portland Surfrider's Maine Chapter engaged in a successful campaign to help pass municipal legislation to ban EPS foam food packaging in the City of Portland, Maine! Matthew Faulkner, the Chapter's Rise Above Plastics Coordinator, was invited by the City Council in 2013 to sit on the Green Packaging Working Group, to help develop this ordinance. Councilman Suslovic commended Matthew for his leadership and vital role in the formation of a strong ordinance, which positions Portland as one of the first New England cities to pass a ban on EPS foam packaging. The ban goes into effect in April 2015. Three cheers for the Maine Chapter, the Portland City Council, and everyone who helped pass this ordinance! This is a fine step toward protecting the ocean, waves & beaches we all love.
  • Bag Fee in Portland Surfrider's Maine Chapter engaged in a successful campaign to help pass municipal legislation to add a fee on paper and plastic checkout bags in the City of Portland, Maine. Matthew Faulkner, the Chapter's Rise Above Plastics Coordinator, was invited by the City Council in 2013 to sit on the Green Packaging Working Group, to help develop this ordinance. Councilman Suslovic commended Matthew for his leadership and vital role in the formation of a strong ordinance, which goes into effect in April 2015. On the day before the June 16 hearing, the Chapter co-hosted a cleanup of Portland's Back Cove with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. In just two hours, the group of approximately twenty volunteers pulled 44 pounds of trash, 6 pounds of recyclables, 108 Plastic Bags, 94 EPS foam cups, and 316 EPS foam pieces from a small stretch of the Cove, clearly demonstrating the plastic debris issue and calling upon the Council to pass the bag fee ordinance as well as its counterpart, an EPS Foam Food Packaging Ban, which also passed on a 6-3 vote June 16. View news coverage from the cleanup, featuring Maine Chapter Co-Chair, Ryan Cope! Kudos to the Maine Chapter, the Portland City Council, and everyone who took part in this campaign for a job well done, with far reaching, purely positive implications for the ocean, waves and beaches!
  • Goose Rocks Beach Access Victory Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport will be kept open to the public per a ruling by the State of Maine Superior Court on October 16, 2012. In Robert F. Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport, Justice G. Arthur Brennan ruled against 29 beach-front owners who sought to claim ownership of the beach to the low water mark. Surfrider Foundation entered the case as an amicus party (or "friend of the court") to strengthen the arguments for public beach access. Read more.
  • Eastport, Maine Beach Access Litigation - McGaverty v. Wittredge Surfrider Foundation's Maine Chapter won an important beach access case in the highest court in the state, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled in McGarvey v. Whittredge that private ownership rights in the intertidal lands do not allow oceanfront property owners to exclude the public from crossing the wet sand to reach the ocean in order to scuba dive or run a scuba diving business. More info.
  • Higgins Beach Access Improved The owners of a 1.55-acre property wanted to protect it to support access to the beach, and Town of Scarborough residents agreed, voting in November 2009 to approve a $1 million bond toward the purchase of the parking lot and a separate 10.3-acre property along the Nonesuch River. Surfrider Foundation, an early advocate for maintaining the parking lot, asked the Maine office of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, to help secure the properties. Having also attracted the support of the Land for Maine's Future Program, TPL negotiated agreements with the landowners, purchased the properties, and has conveyed both to the Town of Scarborough. More info.
  • Sewage Treatment Improved The town of Kennebunkport formerly allowed direct discharge of sewage during winter months, only treating the sewage in the summer months. The Maine Chapter of Surfrider Foundation brought the issue to the attention of Kennebunkport and the Maine DEP and there has been preliminary approval to treat the sewage all year long.
  • The Chapter received an award through the Coastal Watersheds Grants Program from the Maine Shore Stewards Program and the Maine Community Foundation, for a project titled "Community Dog Station Placement Program".
  • Surfrider Foundation chapter activists are working in coordination with Maine's "Healthy Beaches" program, collecting water quality samples and dropping them off for analysis at state-certified labs.
  • The Chapter successfully changed an existing surf ordinance at Higgins Beach in Scarborough that now allows surfing through June 15 and until 11 AM daily. The previous ordinance banned surfing starting in May and forced surfers out of the water by 10 AM. Complementing this expanded access, they worked with the town on the development of a "Code of Ethics" beach sign related to surfing etiquette.

To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.

State of the Beach Report: Maine
Maine Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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