State of the Beach/State Reports/ME/Erosion Response

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Maine Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access52
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 2
Beach Ecology5-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects, and conduct preemptive planning for sea level rise. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.

For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development, and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm, does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? Does the state conduct sea level rise vulnerability assessments and develop adaptation plans to mitigate impacts? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions, then its rank is high. If the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Maine's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.

Policies and Guidance

The Maine Coastal Program uses three coastal construction regulatory programs. The Natural Resources Protection Act protects and designates coastal frontal sand dunes and back sand dunes. The Coastal Sand Dune Rules designate “protected areas,” defined as 100-year flood zones, significant wetlands, and steep slopes greater than 20%. Development, except single family residences, must be set back 250 feet from the high water line. The Municipal Shoreland Zoning Act mandates a 75 foot setback for residential development and 25 foot setback for general development. DEP's Bureau of Land and Water Quality has a good Coastal Sand Dune Systems Website that has links to the relevant rules and supporting documents. Also see here.

Currently, only limited new structures are permitted on frontal dunes, and construction within the back dune system must meet relatively stringent requirements in terms of maximum elevation and footprint. Any new structures must be placed on posts a minimum of three feet above grade in order to maximize the ability of sand to be transported, whether by overwash or winds, within the sand dune system. In addition, all proposed development within the sand dune system must show site stability over the next 100 years, taking into account an expected three-foot rise in sea level. The current rules do permit the reconstruction of structures within the frontal dune that have been destroyed by an ocean storm by more than 50% of their appraised value, but several restrictions apply. Also, if the shoreline recedes so that a coastal wetland extends to any part of the structure, including support posts, but excluding seawalls, for a period of six months or more, then the approved structure, along with appurtenant facilities, must be removed and the site must be restored to natural conditions within one year.

The Coastal Sand Dune Rules were revised in 2004 and again in 2006. The revised rules allow:

  • a 1-time rebuild in the v-zone of the frontal dune, although the project needs to meet certain shoreline change requirements (shoreline change in 100-years, section 5C); if it does not, then it may not be permitted. No variances permitted. See section 6C.
  • The rules were changed to allow very site-specific new development at infill lots within the frontal dune (see 6B(5)).
  • "Unlimited" rebuilds are permitted in the frontal dune, as long as certain requirements are met, including 5C (again, the shoreline change clause), in addition to 6D and 6E.
  • Applicants are given the chance to apply for a variance if they don't meet specific requirements of 5B(3), 6B, 6C and 6E. However, they must still meet the remaining standard requirements under Section 5 and 6. See Sections 9A and 9B for information on the variances.

A damaged frontal dune home at Hunnewell Beach in Phippsburg. MGS File Photos by J. T. Kelley, (1983)

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 severely damaged (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.

An editorial published in the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram on July 31, 2005 emphasized the importance of the Sand Dune Rules. The editorial concludes:

"The revision that the group has worked out appears to be a positive one. It contains rebuilding limits and conservation measures - all of which are vital to the preservation of the dunes. But before the Board of Environmental Protection and the Legislature sign off on the rules, they must ensure that their first priority is protecting the dunes.

The revised rules actually are not very different from what has been discussed all along, but there are some added conservation provisions. For example, the proposed rules would allow landowners on frontal dunes to rebuild their homes at least once if they receive a Department of Environmental Protection permit and then rebuild elevated structures and designs that are flood-proof.

However, a new provision says that any new structure must be moved back from the beach if possible. If the new building can't be moved back, then its footprint must be the same as the destroyed structure.

Also, property owners who rebuild must try to mitigate damage to the dunes. The efforts could include replenishing sand, altering seawalls or planting dune vegetation.

The interest groups all agree that the revised rules represent a middle ground. Now, the BEP and lawmakers must review the proposal carefully. The fate of Maine's coastline is at stake."

Shoreland Zoning -- The Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act requires municipalities to adopt and enforce a zoning ordinance that regulates land use within 250 feet of coastal waters.

According to the Maine Coastal Management Plan, in 1998 Maine amended its Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA, Section 480-B, 1) to include gravel beaches and gravel deposits in the definition of "coastal dune systems." At least 5% of dune systems shown on Maine's sand dune maps are mostly gravel, and another 25% are mixed sand and gravel. This change closed a loophole in state law and reflects the original intent of the NRPA.

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. The Coastal Management Plan suggests this has not affected the stringent standards or review for construction of dwellings in sand dune areas.

A decision in 2000 by the Maine Supreme Court — Wyer vs Board of Environmental Protection and the State of Maine - was in favor of the state's frontal dune restriction and determined that no taking had occurred.

Beach erosion associated with two Corps of Engineers' jetty systems galvanized opposition to the Sand Dune Law in Wells and Saco, Maine. Save Our Shores (SOS) organizations in Wells and Camp Ellis originated in opposition to the engineering structures, but evolved into opponents of state regulations. They have forced the DEP into considering new rules that would allow rebuilding after storm destruction and expansion of existing, non-conforming structures in frontal dunes or high flood hazard (V) zones. At a summer 2002 hearing in Wells, more than 500 people protested the existing rules.[1]

Support for the "retreat" policy has continued from state and university geologists and environmental organizations. A beach profiling program was begun in 1999 and has generated substantial popular support for beaches through the data it has generated and the annual associated State of Maine's Beaches meetings.[2] It has also been shown through an "outcome" analysis that flood insurance claims come largely from "grandfathered" properties developed before the Sand Dune Rules.[3] Countering the legislation proposed by the SOS organizations was proposed legislation in 2003 that would codify as law, many aspects of the existing Sand Dune Rules.[4]

The Maine Coastal Program directly supports the work of the Maine Geological Survey at the Department of Conservation to document and propose solutions to erosion and the threat of sea level rise in Maine’s coastal zone. Examples include:

  • Anticipating Rising Seas, Maine Coastline newsletter, Winter 2007
  • Maine Geological Survey Erosion Webpage: overview of erosion threat, includes maps, data, and related information.
  • Beach Scoring System: utilizes historic change data, in addition to various physical beach characteristics, to develop a scoring system that identifies the need for beach management, and helps determine subsequent applicable beach management actions.
  • Bluff Maps: show the shoreline type and relative stability of bluffs along the Maine coast. MGS’ bluff maps were instrumental in a recent revision to Maine’s model shoreland zoning ordinance to require setbacks for new principal structures to be measured from the top of unstable and highly unstable coastal bluffs. This requirement will afford protection from mass movement of bluffs and prevent pre-mature bluff movement or failure due to development near the edge of the bluff. Towns have until July 1, 2009 to update their shoreland zoning ordinances.

Other Resources

Climate Change Adaptation


For over a decade, Maine actively pursued a suite of novel coastal adaptation initiatives, and in the process, crafted an exemplary coastal management plan to help the State better respond to climate change impacts. While climate change mitigation efforts comprise an important aspect of the State’s overall climate change strategy, state-wide mandated coastal setbacks, rolling easements, and construction regulations explicitly addressing sea level rise have proven particularly progressive. And although the lack of state-wide LiDAR elevation data and coastal erosion mapping does somewhat inhibit adaptation efforts in the coastal zone, Maine’s adoption of explicit sea level rise policies set the State distinctly apart from the majority of coastal states. The State further fully acknowledged climate change as influenced by anthropogenic GHG emissions, and has sought to increase the number of educational and outreach materials available concerning climate change. Maine benefited from both a Climate Action Plan and State Adaptation Plan, in addition to a Coastal Environment Working Group and an Adapting to Climate Change Coordinating Committee. Through a combination of the above actions, Maine established itself as a leader in coastal climate change adaptation, and continues to work towards recognizing and maintaining the dynamic nature of its coastal zone.

Unfortunately, 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.


Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued its first greenhouse gas report in 1990, and subsequently revised its Emission Statement Regulation to include GHG reporting. Building upon these early GHG initiatives, the State Planning Office released a draft report Responding to Climate Change in 1998, and a State of Maine Climate Action Plan in 2000. While the 2000 Climate Action Plan provided recommendations for reducing emissions, it did not commit the State to specific actions.

In August of 2001, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) formally adopted a regional Climate Change Action Plan designed to reduce GHG emissions to a level that would stabilize the earth’s climate and mitigate negative impacts. The Plan called for a reduction in regional GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and a long-term goal of reductions to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate (75-85%).

In response to the NEG/ECP initiative, Governor Baldacci signed into law An Act to Provide Leadership in Addressing the Threat of Climate Change (PL 2003 Chapter 237, 38 M.R.S.A. §574-579) in 2003, setting goals for the reduction of GHG emissions within the State. To meet these goals, the Act charged DEP with developing a Climate Action Plan to help guide Maine’s efforts in reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while also directing the DEP to undertake “Lead by Example” initiatives, including conducting emissions inventories for state facilities and programs, and establishing an annual statewide GHG emissions inventory. The DEP submitted the 2004 Maine Climate Action Plan to the Legislature in December, 2004, setting forth fifty-four actions to reduce Maine’s baseline GHG emissions down to legislative targets. The Plan also contemplates public education and outreach efforts, creating an Education and Public Awareness Working Group to assist the Department in offering public sessions at which this Climate Action Plan can be presented to wider audiences. While the Plan does not specifically mention adaptation, it does acknowledge the IPCC’s predictions that global climate change will accelerate sea level rise, stressing bays, estuaries, and wetlands. A separate measure to create a State Adaptation Plan was passed in 2009 (for more information see below).

As stated above, state climate change work has been halted, and results of the initial work removed from the state’s website by the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

Maine is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state cooperative effort aimed at implementing a regional mandatory cap and trade program in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic that addresses CO2 emissions from power plants. As the first mandatory market-based program to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., the program will cap regional power plan CO2 emissions at approximately current levels from 2009 through 2014, and reduce emissions 10% by 2019. Maine has taken steps to implement the goals set forth in the Initiative, and continues to work towards meeting high CO2 emission standards. The RGGI program was officially authorized by the state legislature in the winter 2007 session, allowing the DEP to undertake a formal rulemaking process to begin implantation of the program’s measures.

The Maine Cool Communities/Cities Campaign empowers communities to reduce energy costs, save tax payer dollars, improve public health through cleaner air, and create good clean jobs in a clean energy economy. As of summer 2009, 29 communities in Maine had joined Cool Communities and signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

The University of Maine has a Climate Change Institute which is an interdisciplinary research unit organized to conduct research and graduate education focused on variability of Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and other environmental systems, and on the interaction between humans and the natural world. Their publications include An Introduction to Global Climate Change and the report Maine's Climate Future.

Led by the collaborative efforts of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Sea Grant, and in partnership with George Jacobson, Maine State Climatologist, Maine launched the novel Maine Climate News website in 2009. Updated quarterly, the site is intended to be a portal to climate change science and research, as well as a resource for news and climate-related activities throughout the state. Owing to the fact that climate represents long-term patterns, the site reviews what is known about the past, the present, and the future of climate trends. Regular features of the site will include:

  1. Updates concerning ongoing research projects of faculty and graduate students at the University of Maine and other partner institutions and organizations;
  2. Connections to a variety of sources of information about weather data and climate patterns;
  3. A special emphasis on hydrology (precipitation and water flow);
  4. A way to ask questions of the Maine State Climatologist and other researchers;
  5. Opportunities to be involved in collecting data that can help reveal statewide patterns. For example, many Mainers might like to participate in the CoCoRaHS (Community Cooperative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network) program, through which citizens help to collect real-time precipitation data and share that information through an easy-to-use web connection).


Note: Unfortunately, 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 (see below) 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.

In April 2009 the State Legislature passed the Resolve, to Evaluate Climate Change Adaptation Options for the State (LD 460), charging the DEP to initiate a stakeholder-based process evaluating options and actions for the state to prepare for “the most likely” impacts of climate change. Following the enactment of L.D. 460, the DEP convened a meeting of the State’s first Adapting to Climate Change Coordinating Committee, comprised of various stakeholders and representatives of Maine’s various economic, social, and environmental sectors. Along with the aid of four working groups, the Committee released People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine’s Course to the legislature in February 2010. The Plan presented initial strategies and recommendations as organized by All Sectors, Communities and People, Environment and Natural Resources, and Economy. The Maine’s Coastal Environment Working Group specifically reviewed likely climate change impacts to the coastline, identified coastal areas of vulnerability, and made recommendations on how the State can better manage its coastal areas in the face of climate change. For example, the working group suggested Maine develop systematic approaches and incentives for conservation and/or purchase of property that allows for the natural retreat of wetlands in response to sea level rise and response to inland inundation risk (Recommendation B.4.2.1). In Strategy B.4.3: Coastal Adaptation, the Plan recognized the unique set of challenges and opportunities associated with climate change effects in the coastal zone. The Plan thus specifically recommends that Maine:

“establish a continuing state-level effort to develop policy, prepare for, and create resilience to, the most likely foreseeable impacts of climate change on the Maine coast”

The Plan notes the necessity of state-wide strategy and standards for land use and development, with specific implementation steps developed at a local level that will further integrate the two levels of adaptation governance. With regards to the coastal zone, the Plan thus presents the following recommendations:

  • Recommendation B.4.3.1. Maine should develop a standardized set of criteria for assessing coastal communities and infrastructure for response and resilience to likely climate impacts, including a mechanism for evaluating vulnerability.
  • Recommendation B.4.3.2 The Maine Geological Survey should periodically evaluate the adequacy of current setback requirements for beaches and bluffs, and recommend updates to existing policies. MGS should continue to identify best management practices including promotion of “soft” solutions and methods to minimize armoring of eroding beaches and bluffs; this will allow natural sediment transport to nourish beaches, estuaries, tidal flats, and sand bars. [see also C.2.1.3, p. 55]
  • Recommendation B.4.3.3 The State Planning Office and the Department of Environmental Protection…should jointly review current state laws and regulations regarding development in coastal areas, particularly for beach/dune areas, and make recommendations for changes, if any.

These recommendations represent some of the most progressive and detailed adaptation actions outlined in any State Adaptation Plan to date. Their specificity stands in stark contrast to many other state’s adaptation plan recommendations that are extremely vague or do not explicitly acknowledge the necessity of proper planning and development along the coastline. The clear-cut recommendations presented in Maine’s plan, however, allow for little deviation, and instead chart an especially clear course for the future of Maine’s adaptation efforts.

The State Adaptation Plan, however, represents only one of Maine’s numerous adaptation initiatives. Already there exist strict coastal setbacks, construction regulations, and extensive planning reviews to help best preserve the state’s natural coastline and its associated ecosystems and processes. Maine is especially recognized as one of only four coastal states that have adopted, implicitly or explicitly, a policy of “rolling easements”. In Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion, and the Takings Clause: How to Save Wetlands and Beaches Without Hurting Property Owners, Titus defines a “rolling easement” as:

“A policy that allows development, but explicitly prevents property owners from holding back the sea. Rolling easements can be implemented with (a) eminent domain purchases of options, easements, covenants, or defeasible estates that transfer title if a bulkhead is built or the sea rises by a certain degree, or (b) statutes that accomplish the same result [referring to Maine, South Carolina, Texas and Rhode Island].”

Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act Chapter 355 represents one of the State’s most important coastal zone management statutes, and in Section D (updated in 2006), explicitly mandates the use of rolling easements:

“If the shoreline recedes such that a coastal wetland…extends to any part of the structure…for a period of six months or more, then the approved structure along with appurtenant facilities must be removed and the site must be restored to natural conditions within one year.” (Ch. 355, Sec. 10-A)

Importantly, this contingency is applied to all projects receiving a permit for construction in the coastal sand dune system and is appended to the property deed and passed on to subsequent property owners when a title is transferred. Section 5D also limits the size of structures that can be built to less than 35 feet and 2,500 square feet unless an applicant can demonstrate that the site will remain stable after allowing for a two-foot rise in sea level over 100 years. The intended result of this provision is to insure that structures can be easily moved in the future should erosion or flooding in the future become problematic. For a complete version See Maine’s Coastal Sand Dune Rules.

Chapter 355 is important as it also partially attributes the erosion of Maine’s beach and dune systems to the “scientifically documented rise in sea level”. The State’s DEP anticipates that sea level will rise approximately two feet in the next 100 years, concluding:

“Under any scenario of increasing sea level, the extensive development of sand dune areas and the construction of structures increase the risk of harm, to both the coastal sand dune system and the structures themselves.” (Ch. 355, Sec. 1)

In response to these sea level rise changes, the DEP thus promises to consider future sea level rise when evaluating proposed developments.

Maine added the classification of an erosion hazard area (EHA) in 2006, defining EHA’s as areas within the coastal sand dune system where new or reconstructed structures must be elevated on posts to account for erosion and sea level rise (Section 3P). Section 5C of the rules discusses shoreline change and the potential damages to projects over the next 100 years, declaring explicitly:

“A project may not be permitted if, within 100 years, the property may reasonably be expected to be eroded as a result of changes in the shoreline such that the project is likely to be severely damaged after allowing for a two-foot rise in sea level over 100 years.”

As noted in the above, the Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act also mandates a 75 foot setback for residential development and 25 foot setback for general development/commercial.

In response to the new definition for an EHA, the Maine Geological Survey (MGS) is in the process of creating a series of GIS layers to map the landward extent of the EHA along Maine’s sandy beaches. These layers are being developed in conjunction with revised and constrained frontal and back dune boundaries as originally mapped in 2001. The remapping efforts use more recent aerial photographs (2003) along with available NOAA LIDAR (2004) and field-measured shoreline changes from recent years.

In 2006, MGS published also published the report, Impacts of Future Sea Level Rise on the Coastal Floodplain, using LiDAR to model a two-foot rise in sea level for an area of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, located in Wells, Maine. The MSG subsequently overlaid GIS coverage and datasets to help identify and quantify the actual impacts of the projected sea level rise on the study area. Similar GIS layers have since been created, which also model the potential impacts of a two foot sea level rise during times of highest annual tide on existing marsh communities adjacent to its sandy beach communities. Results of the report were made available to the public in 2007. With support from the Maine Coastal Program, MGS has also increased its development of decision support tools and technical assistance with regards to coastal hazards. These tools, including coastal bluff and landslide hazard maps, static inundation maps, and improvements to the beach scoring systems, not only help enforce existing regulations, but additionally aid coastal municipalities in assessing and planning for coastal hazards and climate change impacts.

Maine has been fortunate enough to have had several different LIDAR data collection flights, with data being flown for different coastal sections of southern Maine in 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2007 (NOAA, 2000 and 2004; FEMA, 2006; US Army Corps, 2007). All of the LIDAR data that has been collected in Maine has overall vertical accuracies in the 13-30 cm range (5-12 inches). Despite these collection flights, currently less than 2% of Maine’s coastline has actually been mapped using LIDAR. More comprehensive LIDAR coverage would provide valuable information for hazard identification and a strong scientific basis for rule changes, in addition to informing vulnerability assessments and supporting the development of coastal community resiliency. As suggested by an evaluation of the Maine Coastal Program, the State’s hazard mitigation efforts could be further enhanced by the collection of detailed sand budget data that would lead to the development of new dynamic models to predict shoreline changes, erosion, and dune migration for use in permitting decisions.

The State also utilizes Bluff Maps to show the shoreline type and relative stability of bluffs along the Maine coast. MGS’ bluff maps were instrumental in a recent revision to Maine’s model shoreland zoning ordinance to require setbacks for new principal structures to be measured from the top of unstable and highly unstable coastal bluffs. The requirement will afford protection from mass movement of bluffs and prevent pre-mature bluff movement or failure due to development near the edge of the bluff. Towns have until July 1, 2009 to update their shoreland zoning ordinances.

Anticipatory Planning for Sea Level Rise Along the Coast of Maine 1995; published by Maine’s EPA, represented the first systematic assessment of Maine’s vulnerability to warming-induced sea level rise. The report consists of a vulnerability assessment and possible adaptive response strategies the state could adopt to mitigate negative impacts of global climate change, including:

  • Relative costs and benefits of selected preliminary response strategies for one specific case study;
  • The responsiveness of existing state and federal laws and policies to address the most significant negative impacts on coastal resources identified by the vulnerability assessment;
  • The legal considerations for Maine’s policy response including potential legal challenges to regulatory tools; and
  • Approaches already adopted or evaluated by other states for coastal erosion or coastal hazard mitigation.

While the report is not itself a formal plan, it does provide background information and a set of preliminary recommendations to facilitate the future development of a more formal plan. Chapter 3 of the report provides a more quantitative assessment of the features at risk from accelerated sea-level rise, using the Camp Ellis area as a case study.

The report's recommendations were:

Anticipatory Policies and Design Standards

1. Review all new coastal public works projects to determine if minor, cost-effective changes can be made in design or siting to accommodate a changed shoreline position or more intense storms.

2. Discourage an irreversible commitment of public resources for new infrastructure or structures in areas likely to be affected by accelerated sea-level rise, except as necessary to support continued economic viability and efficient functioning of water-dependent uses.

3. Increase the amount of publicly-owned or controlled upland area adjacent to public waterfront access areas to allow for landward movement.

4. Expand coastal nature preserves and acquire key undeveloped coastal wetlands and adjacent conservation areas to provide sufficient upland buffer areas for wetland migration.

Planning and Regulatory Policies
5. Halt attempts to stabilize the shoreline within or adjacent to the soft coasts and maintain/restore the ability for coastal sand dune systems, coastal wetlands and eroding bluffs to migrate inland.

6. Along all soft coasts, establish setbacks for all structures (including walls and bulkheads) based on projected shoreline position assuming a 100 cm rise in sea level over the next century to protect the natural systems.

7. As a limited exception to #6, in those areas expected to remain stable over the next 100 years assuming a continuation of historic sea-level rise, allow construction of new, small, easily-movable structures (excluding seawalls or bulkheads) built at low densities adjacent to sand beaches or marshes on the condition that they be removed if they begin to interfere with coastal processes.

8. As a limited exception to #6, allow new structures for functionally water-dependent uses which meet certain performance standards.

9. Treat existing development within the area threatened by erosion or inundation from a sea-level rise of 100 cm over the next century as non-conforming structures, prohibit expansion or intensification of use, but allow ordinary maintenance and repair so long as not damaged by more than 50 percent of its value. To the extent legally feasible, require the owner to remove the structure if it is damaged by more than 50 percent of its value, if the structure becomes located on public land, or becomes a public nuisance.

10. On any site unlikely to be affected by a 100 cm rise but likely to affected by a 100 to 200 cm rise over the next century, allow new subdivision development only if it meets performance standards for cluster development designed to minimize the costs of protection.

11. Supplement State regulatory procedures by encouraging/requiring other agencies and municipalities to consider the probability of future increased rates of sea-level rise in making investment, development and permitting decisions.

Strategic Assessment, Research, and Educational Actions
12. Designate one State agency as the lead agency for monitoring issues associated with global climate change and sea-level rise.

13. The lead State agency and cooperating State agencies should undertake additional research to document coastal erosion and to determine how revised global or regional projects of particular impacts of global climate change may affect Maine.

14. Undertake a substantial education effort aimed at local officials, code enforcement officers, other State agencies, current and potential coastal landowners and the general public to focus on the hazards of coastal erosion and inundation, possible impacts of accelerated sea-level rise, the costs of engineered "solutions" and the benefits of conserving the soft coasts as a resilient natural system.

15. As funding permits, undertake supplemental studies on related impacts, specifically including the impacts of coastal flooding/storm surges and salinization/saltwater intrusion with accelerated sea-level rise. In addition, continue to assess policy response options, particularly rolling easements or other market-based approaches, to supplement the use of regulatory setbacks.

Also see Anticipating Rising Seas from Maine Coastline newsletter, Winter 2007.

Protecting Maine’s Beaches for the Future: A Proposal to Create an Integrated Beach Management Program was published by the Maine Coastal Program in February 2006. The report describes existing problems with current beach management, while also proposing a series of recommendations to enhance Maine’s beach management strategies. Most notable of these recommendations includes the creation of a new Integrated Maine Beach Management Program, which would involve integrating a system of regulations, incentives, public investment, and hazard mitigation to help improve Maine’s beaches. However, although sea level rise is acknowledged by the authors throughout the report, policy recommendations and planning tools do not specifically address the topic.

Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment was prepared for Governor Baldacci in 2009 by the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, the report provides a brief look at Maine’s climate past, present, and likely future, an assessment of climate change upon Maine’s diverse environments, as well as a breakdown of issues and opportunities by sector (agriculture, tourism & recreation, energy, etc.). Thus far the Report has acted as a central resource to the stakeholder workgroups in developing a Maine climate adaptation plan.

Maine Sea Grant, in collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant, initiated a two-year project to help coastal communities prepare for climate change. Recognizing the lack of climate change understanding among policy-makers and the general public, the project, Building a Resilient Coast, aims to develop and test a model of public outreach about climate change. By understanding the challenges of adapting to climate variability locally, it is hoped communities can lessen climate change impacts become more resilient. With this in mind, outreach will involve public and private decision makers such as city managers, county planners, private developers, bankers, and realtors. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews will be used to determine information needs and strategies. Collaboration between the two states is expected to yield insights about critical information needs and effective outreach strategies that may be applicable to other states. Thus far the project has yielded the one-hour educational documentary titled Building a Resilient Coast. The video highlights some of the key issues and insights offered by a range of speakers knowledgeable about responding to the effects of climate change. For more information also see here.

As part of the coastal resiliency project, the Maine Sea Grant, with support from NOAA’s Climate Program Office, released a draft technical report titled Climate Variability and Coastal Community Resilience: Developing and Testing a National Model of State-based Outreach. The report notes that while Maine benefits from sound coastal development regulations for sand dune systems, there is a lack of erosion hazard mitigation data and few examples of “soft” alternatives shoreline management, in addition to a need for increased education and outreach tools. Recognizing these shortcomings, the report developed both a needs assessment and an evaluation of the two target audiences (coastal property owners and municipal officials) to gauge the extent of knowledge and personal perceptions concerning climate change and coastal hazards. In general, it was found that participants had relatively little knowledge of the issues surrounding climate change and sea level rise, and further, had little idea about how best to respond to these changes. The Report extensively details barriers to actions, needs of both governing agencies and coastal citizens, and provides particularly opinionated comments and suggestions from a variety of stakeholders concerning the issues with sea level rise and coastal development. Combining a wealth of information, opinions, and survey data, the report can, and should, be utilized by coastal managers to help develop community level priorities and focus efforts in areas of greatest need.

The Maine Coastal Program, in partnership with MGS, the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission, the State Planning Office, and several coastal municipalities, conducted work on a project entitled Developing Hazard Resiliency Tools for Municipalities. The project's goals are to utilize science and modeling to directly influence and impact coastal policy and decision making. Through GIS and LiDAR mapping, dynamic modeling, and inundation projections, the project aims to increase the coastal community’s awareness of climate change hazards and help improve the coordination to address hazards, sea level rise, and wetlands management in the coastal zone. At the State Level, the Program calls for regulatory changes (i.e., defining the future coastal wetland or the future floodplain) and promotes state funded land acquisition, marsh conservation, and restoration programs. The Project also recommends a number of strategies to be implemented at the municipal level, including Shoreland Zoning changes, development of comprehensive adaptation plans, and land use/development planning. See an excellent summary PowerPoint Presentation (by Peter Slovinsky of the MGS, Department of Conservation) concerning this project.

Four coastal municipalities (Saco, Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, and Biddeford) involved in the project are in the Saco Bay area in Southern Maine. They are part of the Sea Level Adaptation Working Group for Saco Bay. The project in that area has explored multiple strategies for helping Saco Bay communities better prepare for sea level rise. The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools in Saco Bay website (part of the overall SLAWG website) offers an overview of the possible policy and regulatory responses. More info.

The climate change initiatives and efforts of the Maine Coastal Program, in general, have proven especially proactive, as commended in the Maine Coastal Program Evaluation – May 2004 to September 2009. The Evaluation specifically noted MCP’s leadership in shaping climate change policy at the state level, while also providing critical resources to municipalities, such as Saco Bay, that help inform implementation of climate change adaptation strategies at the community level.

The NOAA Coastal Management website also highlights Maine’s Beach Scoring System as a novel management tool to help preserve sandy shorelines in the face of climate change. In order to address the problem of eroding beaches, Maine’s Coastal Program and MGS have developed a beach scoring system to help managers identify and prioritize beaches in need of erosion control efforts and identify beach management solutions. The project utilizes historic change data, in addition to various physical beach characteristics, to determine present erosion trends. The pilot study focuses on Saco Bay in Southern Maine. For more information, visit the NOAA Coastal Management website.

In summer 2011 the US EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program awarded funds to the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership (CBEP) in Portland, Maine, and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) in coastal New Hampshire, to further develop and use COAST (COastal Adaptation to Sea level rise Tool) in their sea level rise adaptation planning processes. The New England Environmental Finance Center worked with municipal staff, elected officials, and other stakeholders to select specific locations, vulnerable assets, and adaptation actions to model using COAST. The EFC then collected the appropriate base data layers, ran the COAST simulations, and provided visual, numeric, and presentation-based products in support of the planning processes underway in both locations. These products helped galvanize support for the adaptation planning efforts. Through facilitated meetings they also led to stakeholders identifying specific action steps and begin to determine how to implement them. Here is the Final Report summarizing this work.

Additional Resources


Kathleen Leyden

Kristen Grant

Coastal Barrier Resources Act

The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:

"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."

A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources. A 2016 report is now available.

FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.

General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


  1. Cohen, T., DEP proposal would make it harder to rebuild on dunes. Portland Press Herald, August 14, 2002, p.1.
  2. Heinze, H.H., Kelley, J.T., Belknap, D.F., and Dickson, S.M., 2002, Co-measurement of beaches in Maine, USA: volunteer profiling of beaches and annual meetings, Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 36, p. 374-380.
  3. Knisel, J., The "outcomes" of Maine's Sand Dune Law. Unpublished University of Maine Masters Thesis, School of Marine Sciences, in preparation.
  4. Kelley, J.T., Dickson, S.M., Slovinsky, P.A., and Knisel, J., 2003, Managing Beaches in the Northeast: The History of Maine's Sand Dune Rules. Proceedings of the 13th Biennial Coastal Zone Conference, Baltimore, MD.

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