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Coastal Access Toolkit
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Accessing the Maine Coast

Accessing the Maine Coast is a self-help resource for Maine people.

This website contains information to help waterfront users, coastal communities, and land owners address issues related to coastal access. The intent of this website is to offer specific tools to coastal stakeholders in Maine communities to facilitate their ability to cooperatively address access issues, possibly reducing the need for litigation.


About the Project

Legal and Policy Tools for Coastal Access in Maine and the Nation: Project Background
In March 2007, partners from Maine Sea Grant, Maine Coastal Program, The Center for Law and Innovation at the University of Maine School of Law, and Island Institute received a grant from the National Sea Grant Law Center to conduct research on legal and policy tools for coastal access in Maine. The findings from this research resulted in the legal memo Legal Tools to Enhance Public Coastal Access While Protecting Private Property Rights and form the legal foundation of this site.

Additionally, regional workshops, targeted audience presentations, and new publications are under development. These continued outreach efforts identified new community-based access needs, including a need for more detailed information on the barriers and opportunities that tax policies pose for working waterfront access preservation. In response, Maine Sea Grant added the Maine Department of Revenue Services and the Portland, Maine law firm of Bernstein Shur to its list of partners and were granted additional funding by the National Sea Grant Law Center in 2009. These extensive research on tax-based tools resulted in two legal memos Tax-based Opportunities for Working Waterfront Protection and Working Waterfront Tax Strategies and also provide the legal basis for this site.

This Website is Available Free for Adaptation in Other States

Review of the by attorneys at the National Sea Grant Law Center in 2008 indicated that the majority of the legal information contained in the site (approximately 80%) could be applied directly in other coastal and Great Lakes states. Recognizing this potential for the website model to be adapted for relatively small investment, the National Sea Grant Law Center made additional grant funds available to four state Sea Grant College Programs to adapt the site for application in their own states. In 2010, five other states released their own coastal access websites modeled on this Maine site. These states are: Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, or Hawaii

The legal content and web template continue to be made available to qualified applicants, free of charge. If you are from a state other than Maine, Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii and are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please Contact us.

Contact us for questions related to the project.


This site is designed to help users understand how the law might apply to their needs. This site does NOT provide legal advice, which is the application of law to one's specific circumstances. We recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

About the Issue of Accessing the Maine Coast

A tide of demographic and economic change is moving through Maine’s coastal towns, harbors, and communities. According to a 2007 study by the Island Institute, nearly 60% of Maine’s coastal access (land along the shore that is available for use by recreational or commercial interests) is privately owned and therefore not permanently assured.

Communities, waterfront users, and landowners are all affected by these changes in access to Maine’s shores. Visitors may be restricted from their favorite beach spots, clammers may lose access to a private path, and waterfront landowners fear liability, crowding, and inappropriate use of their land. See Common Law and Statutes for more on coastal land ownership in Maine.

Working Waterfront: Part of Maine’s Coastal Identity

For decades, coastal state policymakers across the country have grown progressively more concerned over the disappearance of large percentages of working waterfront access (land that provides access to coastal waters for persons engaged in water-dependent fisheries and marine-related businesses). In Maine, nearly 70% of Maine’s working waterfront access is privately owned and therefore vulnerable to conversion to another use if sold on the open market. Of Maine’s 149 coastal towns and over 5,300 miles of coastline, only 20 miles of the coastline are devoted to commercial fishing today. Working waterfront is increasingly replaced at the shoreline by residential and other development more competitive in today’s economy than traditional, functionally water-dependent uses.

This trend apparently results from mounting pressures related to population growth and migration, increasing residential and recreational demand and development on the coast, and declining fishery stocks. In the past thirty years, there has been an unprecedented migration nationwide to the coast, to the point that more than half of all Americans live in the country’s coastal counties.

Many newcomers are not accustomed to the sights, smells, and sounds that can come with a functional working waterfront. In addition, with increasing population has come higher demand for living space, higher land values, and, with “highest and best use” tax policy, higher property taxes near the water. Meanwhile, many fisheries stocks have declined, and the average fishing income has declined in relation. By extension, smaller, shorefront boat shops, bait shops, and other water-related businesses have similarly suffered.

Meanwhile, it is well established that traditional working waterfront industries play a vital role in the overall economy of coastal states, contributing to diverse opportunities for employment and skills training, but also to coastal tourism. Fishing, in particular, supports a wide array of associated businesses and trades, all dependent to a greater or lesser extent on access or proximity to the water. These water-dependent uses, together with the water-related and water-enhanced businesses and industries they support, have been shown to far exceed the economic value of shoreside residential development.

The concerns of planning experts, legislators, and voters across the nation have led to numerous responses. Recognizing the severity of working waterfront loss, coalitions have been built, task forces have been convened, and studies have been performed in most coastal states, resulting in increased public and legislative awareness of the issues. See Resources for more information on these efforts.

Defining Working Waterfront

More on Defining Working Waterfront.