Camden, Maine waterfront. (Photo by Peter Ravella, CNT)

ME - New law expands ways to protect working waterfront

AUGUSTA — An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Working Waterfront Covenants was signed into law May 8, greatly expanding opportunities for protecting Maine’s remaining working waterfronts, the Island Institute announced this week. Rep. Morgan Rielly (D-Westbrook) introduced the bill, with Sen. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) a co-sponsor.

“Maine’s fishing industry accounts for nearly $1 billion in annual revenues and it’s an industry under pressure from many sides,” Rielly said in a press release. “Saving Maine’s working waterfront properties from conversion to non-commercial uses is one way to protect our fishing heritage.”

The primary mechanism for preserving the working waterfront in perpetuity is the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program (WWAPP) funded by Land for Maine’s Future in partnership with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. This is a competitive program through which the state buys the development rights on a piece of working waterfront from the owner to ensure future development will not limit commercial marine use.

“As a coastal land trust, we see first hand the development pressure threatening working waterfront,” said Julia McLeod, executive director at Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. “This bill gives us a new avenue to support our town and address real community needs.”

Since 2008, thirty-four properties have been preserved through this program. Now, land trusts can provide a vehicle for private sector partners to work together to mobilize additional funding sources and act more nimbly to save working waterfront properties.

“Protecting our working waterfront is key to protecting our way of life along the coast,” Grohoski said. “I’m pleased to have co-sponsored LD 574, which will help us preserve key access points for people who work on the water.”

Expanding eligibility for this type of conservation to land trusts is particularly important in urgent, emergency sale situations where multiple parties must move quickly to put together the funding and structure and close the deal. Landowners may also prefer their local land trusts to hold the development rights for their property rather than a state agency.

“This important legislation holds great promise for keeping Maine’s coastline working and thriving for generations to come,” Nick Battista, chief policy officer at Island Institute, noted.

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