Protecting Maine's Working Waterfronts

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Community Actions to Support Working Waterfronts

Comprehensive Planning

excavator photoThe building boom of the late 1980s prompted many communities to reconsider their future and determine how they could better manage growth. Since then, dozens of Maine towns have embarked on a comprehensive planning process that helps set a clear direction for balanced future growth--so that change does not diminish what residents most cherish about their community.

The comprehensive planning process gives community members a chance to discuss issues and envision solutions. The staff at the Maine Coastal Program can provide useful guidance in this process, along with small technical assistance grants. The recommendations compiled in a comprehensive plan can help to enact land use regulations and zoning and direct investments in ways that benefit the community's long-term interests. A comprehensive plan may become the foundation for a more specific plan guiding harbor use and management [see waterfront planning].

Plans are not static documents, but can be revised and refined over time to reflect changes in the community. In Camden, for example, a committee recently reviewed the town's Harbor and Waterways Ordinance to consider what improvements might be made. The ordinance, first adopted in 1990, had not been updated in the intervening years to address any changes in community needs or shorefront uses. The new ordinance, adopted by a two-thirds margin, addressed deficiencies in the mooring process and helped to ensure that the town's remaining commercial fishermen will have ready access to the town dock (and to parking).

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Waterfront Planning

Right_Tack_CoverCareful planning can ensure that many different parties enjoy the shorefront and local waters without conflict and without degrading the place. The handbook, The Right Tack: Charting Your Harbor's Future, which you can obtain free of charge from the Maine Coastal Program, provides a comprehensive approach to drafting, revising and implementing harbor ordinances and plans. Here are some planning tips from The Right Tack and the 1988 State handbook Coastal Management Techniques: A Handbook for Local Officials:

  • Learn from the experience of other communities. Talk with staff at your Regional Planning Council and the staff at the Maine Coastal Program to find out which communities have faced challenges similar to yours. The case studies on this web site may provide some additional ideas.
  • Survey those who use your harbor facilities: this may be the best means of estimating future growth. Gather additional data on past and current trends. This analysis is a critical part of early planning, but be careful not to get mired in this phase. Remember that your goal is not to produce a report but to spark actions that will make your waterfront more accessible and vital.
  • Clearly define the challenges that your community is facing in terms of its waterfront. Once there's agreement on problems and opportunities, set objectives for what you wish to accomplish (for example: increasing the number of access points or keeping the established water-dependent businesses along the shorefront).
  • Include as many people as possible in the initial stages of planning and goal-setting: getting input from diverse harbor users will help ensure that the whole community stands behind your final plan. Good ways to engage the community include:
    • selecting a diverse cross-section of representatives to serve on the planning committee;
    • conducting surveys to solicit opinions;
    • conducting workshops and hearings to gain public input;
    • inviting frequent press and news coverage;
    • holding public waterfront tours; and
    • involving school children in the planning process.
  • Design a strategy to address these objectives: identify what work is needed, who will do it, and how it will be funded. Acquaint yourself with your community's comprehensive plan (if one has been completed) and with the State's Coastal Policies so that your waterfront plan will conform to those broader objectives. If possible, your waterfront strategy should be incorporated into your community's comprehensive plan.
  • Try to recruit dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers to help shepherd the process. Many communities find that having a 5- or 6-member harbor committee (appointed by selectmen to reflect the diversity of shorefront users) helps lend momentum to waterfront planning efforts.
  • Try to build consensus by clearly summarizing points of agreement and disagreement and exploring alternate courses of action. If the challenges you're facing extend beyond town lines, consider working toward a regional solution.
  • There are numerous ways to put new changes into practice--through new ordinances, capital improvements (built into the town budget), better management of the waterfront, and private incentives. Weigh the pros and cons of each option before settling on a course of action. If views differ on which course to pursue, work toward a compromise that will address the concerns of most participants.
  • Once your plan is clear, make sure that you have the support of local officials and local citizens, and that you have set a clear timetable with objectives that can be achieved.

Your community will likely need to rely on a variety of funding sources, including loans, municipal tax increment financing, municipal bonds, grants, donations, and local taxes.

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What's in a Waterfront Ordinance?

harbormaster's shackWaterfront ordinances specify how municipal waters and waterfront facilities will be managed. By delineating what activities will occur where, ordinances establish consistent rules and help to minimize conflicts. They outline the powers and duties of the harbormaster and the harbor committee, as well as the appeals process for their decisions. Harbor or waterfront ordinances can also be used to:

  • establish boundaries and cite where certain regulations apply (such as speed limits, dock rules, and abandonment of vessel restrictions);
  • provide for the number and placement of moorings, the length of private docks, the length of vessels allowed at docks, the tie-up times at public docks, the channel setback requirements, and any fees;
  • prohibit businesses that are not water-dependent from certain areas;
  • give priority to commercial water-dependent uses over recreational uses;
  • require that certain users provide and maintain waterfront access;
  • limit the height and size of structures that are not marine-related;
  • regulate dock and wharf construction; and
  • establish standards for refueling, spill prevention, and clean-up.

[credit: Coastal Management Techniques: A Handbook for Local Officials (1988) Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.]

Case Study: Zoning for a Vital Waterfront

Case Study: Improving Management at a Municipal Fish Pier

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Protecting Water Access

public boat access signReliable shore access is vital to all those who work in Maine's fisheries. Coastal development has closed off many traditional access points, but communities are working hard to improve those that remain and to create new ones. "There aren't any one-size-fits-all tools available," explains Elizabeth Sheehan of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., "but there are a wealth of creative approaches that communities are trying--which may become models in the months and years ahead." The toolbox includes outright purchase of shorefront lands as well as securing easements that provide permanent guaranteed access for working fishermen. Communities can also reclaim traditional rights of way to the shore, gaining help from the Maine Coastal Program.

Case Study: Protecting a Working Dock with a Conservation Easement

Case Study: Securing Community Shore Access by Eminent Domain

Case Study: Purchasing a Town Landing

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Supporting Water-Dependent Businesses

Art's LobstersFor working waterfronts to remain vital, water-dependent businesses need to thrive. Many operations reliant on marine resources cannot readily pass increased costs on to consumers--so they are more vulnerable to escalating property taxes and other rising expenses. Support for these businesses can come from the private sector (in the form of commercial loans, leases, and new markets) as well as from public and nonprofit sectors (in the form of low-interest loans, guarantee funds, and technical assistance).

Maine Working Waterfront Loan Fund

Coastal Enterprises, Inc., a nonprofit economic development organization, manages a Working Waterfront Loan Fund that provides low-cost financing for dredging, pier maintenance, repairs and environmental upgrades. The fund offers loans to private pier and wharf operations that provide marine services and to commercial fishing, aquaculture, boat repair and boatbuilding operations. Some loans are even made for acquiring real estate or access rights.

The Working Waterfront Loan Fund promotes economic development in coastal communities by offering low-interest loans to fishing and marine-related businesses; forging strategic partnerships with local banks to stimulate waterfront investments; providing interim financing to acquire development rights; and offering direct technical assistance. Loans are made at fixed, below-market rates for 5- to 15-year terms in amounts ranging from $10,000 and $200,000. For more information, contact Elizabeth Sheehan at 207-772-5356.

Case study: Support for a Lobsterman's Co-op

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Finance Authority of Maine (FAME)

FAME is an independent state agency that offers innovative financial solutions to help Maine citizens pursue business and educational opportunities. Contact FAME at or by calling 1-800-228-3734 or 207-623-3263.

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Tax Increment Financing

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a local economic development tool that allows a municipality to use all (or a portion of ) new property taxes (the "increment") from an investment project to assist in project financing within a designated district (such as a working waterfront zone). This financing may involve directly reimbursing the investing business or retiring project-related bonds issued by the municipality.

A municipality can designate a TIF district (lasting up to 30 years) by a majority vote, following a public notice and hearing. The TIF is implemented through a binding "Credit Enhancement Agreement" between the municipality and the investing business. For example, a fish processor might propose to invest 4 million dollars to construct a facility on land valued at $200,000. If the town's property tax mil rate is $25 per $1,000 of valuation, then the land's post-investment property tax obligation will be $105,000 per year ($100,000 of which is new "increment" available for TIF-related development, and $5,000 of which is the prior tax obligation not available for TIF-related development ). The Credit Enhancement Agreement made between the town and the business might capture 50 percent of the project's tax increment for direct reimbursement, yielding the business $50,000 each year for a decade (assuming a 10-year TIF District with unchanged conditions).

Municipalities also can float a bond (for up to 20 years) to cover a portion of project costs. In this example, the town might choose to support the project with a $150,000 10-year general obligation bond. The town could capture an additional 20 percent of the project's tax increment to meet the annual debt service of $20,000 on the bond. The remaining 30 percent of the project's tax increment ($30,000/year) could be deposited in the town's general fund.

More information on TIFs in Maine is available in a report completed by the Center for Economic Policy, available from CEP by calling (207)622-7381.

[Thanks to Elizabeth Butler, Esq., of Pierce Atwood, for assistance with this section.]

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