Maine Sand Dune Rules

Maine’s coastal sand dunes are resources of state significance under Maine's Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) (38 Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 480-A.) To protect these coastal features, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) established these rules to provide guidance to applicants seeking permits under the NRPA for certain activities in a coastal sand dune system. DEP evaluates proposed developments with consideration of the projected impacts of sea level rise, and may impose restrictions on the density and location of development. 

For example, 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. Beach nourishment and dune restoration projects are excluded from this requirement.

Shoreline hardening, such as the construction of new seawalls and similar structures is prohibited. In addition, the rules prohibit, with certain exceptions, the construction of a building greater than 35 feet in height or covering a ground area greater than 2,500 square feet.

The rules do not allow reliance upon an existing seawall as it is not sufficient as evidence of site stability. An existing building may be elevated on a post or pile foundation to exceed 35 feet for the sole purpose of meeting the elevation requirements in Sections 6(G) and 7(C) without the need to demonstrate that the site will remain stable after allowing for sea level rise.

The rules also set standards for reconstruction of buildings and structures damaged by wave action. Some activities, such as construction of temporary structures and maintenance and repair, are excluded from the permitting requirements.

Coastal sand dune systems are fragile, dynamic resources that comprise only about two percent of Maine’s overall coastline. These sandy stretches are considered resources of state significance since they act as natural barriers that protect the shoreline from storm events. A healthy dune system protects property by reducing the energy of storm waves. It is the best defense against coastal flooding, erosion, and sea-level rise, and provides tremendous economic benefit to the local economy. 

Unlike most terrestrial systems, the coastal dune system moves over the landscape and across property boundaries. This migrating dune system is difficult to preserve. However, it needs to be protected and restored. The dunes also provide vital habitat for a variety of wildlife and recreational opportunities.

Many of the sandy beaches and dunes along Maine’s coastline are eroding, in part, due to a scientifically documented rise in relative sea level. In addition, attempts to prevent erosion and flooding through the construction or enlargement of seawalls harm the beach and dune system. Seawalls reflect waves onto the beach causing sand to be scoured away and they cut off the natural supply of sand to the beach from the sand dune behind the wall.
 

Publication Date: June 8, 2006

Related Organizations:

  • Maine Department of Environmental Protection

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