Working waterfront protection funds once again available

First published in Landings, March, 2014.

Once again owners of coastal properties in Maine used for commercial fishing activities have an opportunity to ensure that their land continues to serve the fishing industry in the future. The Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program (WWAPP) is accepting applications until May 6 for securing working waterfront property.

The genesis of the WWAPP came in the early 2000s, when concerned legislators, nonprofit organizations and fishermen noticed that there were very few miles of Maine coast dedicated to commercial fishing purposes. In addition, the ever-increasing real estate valuation of waterfront property resulted in huge tax bills for businesses such as boatyards and lobster wharves, adding even more pressure to beleaguered property owners. The Working Waterfront Coalition, a loose confederation of concerned people and organizations, drew the attention of the state Legislature to the problem. In response the Legislature amended the Land for Maine’s Future Board’s mandate to include preservation of working waterfront properties. Two million dollars were made available in 2005 through a state bond for the first round of funding through the new WWAPP.

The goal of the WWAPP is to provide matching funds to help businesses, co-ops, municipalities and other entities secure important working waterfront properties. These funds can be used to purchase access easements, rights of way, or development rights on properties entirely dedicated to commercial fisheries uses. Mixed use properties can also be considered as long as there is commercial fishing access associated with the property.

An additional $3 million was provided for the program in 2007. Then in 2010 Maine voters again approved a larger conservation bond that provided $1.7 million for the WWAPP. The funds were not released by the Governor’s office until last year.

The WWAPP is managed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources in concert with the Land for Maine’s Future program. Coastal Enterprises Inc. is contracted to assist individuals and businesses with the application process.

When a project receives funding, the property’s development rights are extinguished through the sale of a working waterfront covenant. The covenant is a legally binding deed restriction held by DMR. The covenant protects all current and future fisheries-related uses of the land by prohibiting all conflicting non-fisheries activities (i.e. condos, marinas, restaurants). The covenant does allow a degree of mixed use provided those uses are compatible with fisheries use and would provide the property owner with flexibility to remain financially viable. The property owner also retains all other rights of ownership.

If and when the owner chooses to sell the property, the State has a “right of first refusal” to assure that the land will be valued at its working waterfront value. This ensures that the property remains affordable to someone who will use it for commercial fishing activities. In this way, the land will remain forever available to fishermen and not be converted to a residential or other non-fishery use.

There are six criteria that DMR is looking for in potential projects. A favorable project is one that is:

  1. An active working waterfront which is strategically significant to the local, regional and state fisheries related economies;
  2. Currently located and developed to fully support commercial fishing activities; providing key supports such as all tide access, fuel, bait, sales, and/or adequate parking;
  3. Under current and emerging threat of conversion to uses incompatible with commercial fishing activities by development and changing population dynamics;
  4. In a community with a clear desire to maintain and support their commercial fishing enterprises as evidenced by zoning, comprehensive plans, or written support and;
  5. A critical part of the local fishing infrastructure providing key access for the area.
  6. Poised to create new shoreside jobs with proposed investments described in a business plan.

Additionally, DMR is seeking individuals, businesses, coops, or communities to participate in the WWAPP that are:

  • Willing to develop a business/operating plan.
  • Willing to enter a permanent deed restriction to be held and monitored by the DMR assuring the prohibition of all competing non-fishing uses of the property.

To date dozens of fishing coops, marine businesses, lobster wharves, land trusts and towns have successfully applied for funds to make sure that fishermen continue to have access to the water.

For further information or to submit an application, please contact:

For York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc or Lincoln Counties. Hugh Cowperthwaite, CEI, 2 Portland Fish Pier, Suite 206, Portland, ME 04101, tel. (207) 535-2920 hsc@ceimaine.org

For Knox, Waldo, Hancock, or Washington Counties.  Dick Clime, CEI, P.O. Box 268, Wiscasset, ME 04578, tel. (207) 882-5191, rdc@ceimaine.org