The Working Waterfront

Land trusts can now protect working waterfronts

New law eases transfer of property

Posted 2023-08-16
Last Modified 2023-08-16

A bill sponsored by Rep. Morgan Rielly of Westbrook (LD 574: An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Working Waterfront Covenants) has been signed into law, greatly expanding opportunities for protecting Maine’s remaining working waterfronts.

“Maine’s fishing industry accounts for nearly $1 billion in annual revenues, and it’s an industry under pressure from many sides,” said Rielly.

“Saving Maine’s working waterfront properties from conversion to non-commercial uses is one way to protect our fishing heritage. This new law will allow Maine’s coastal land trusts the opportunity to conserve these properties, and land trusts have the resources and skills to help us accomplish this important goal.”

The primary mechanism for preserving the working waterfront in perpetuity is the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program 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.

Since 2008, 34 properties have been preserved through this important 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.

“Maine’s iconic working waterfronts are the backbone of our coastal economy, and Maine’s land trusts are proven experts in property conservation,” said Nick Battista, chief policy officer at Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. “This important legislation holds great promise for keeping Maine’s coastline working and thriving for generations to come.”

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.

“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.”