Access to Maine’s beaches and coastal areas can sometimes be a challenge. According to the latest analysis of property ownership data by the Maine Coastal Program, the public owns just 12 percent of Maine’s 5,400-mile shoreline. Public rights to the rest of the coast vary considerably, from submerged areas below low tide through the intertidal zone to upland areas. Unlike most other states, Maine and Massachusetts extend most private property rights to the low-tide mark.
Conflicts over rights and uses to the coast often end up in the courts, resulting in a series of decisions about who can use which parts of the sea’s edge.
Understanding coastal property law can be daunting for landowners, beach visitors and municipal officials. A new publication aims to summarize and clarify the issues, and provide guidance to those seeking to resolve coastal access conflicts. “Public Shoreline Access in Maine: A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law” describes Maine law and prominent court cases related to public use and access to the coast, from the 17th-century Colonial Ordinance that reserved the public’s right to “fishing, fowling and navigation” in the intertidal zone to the recent decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court regarding public use of a private road to access Cedar Beach in Harpswell.
This is the third edition of the publication and the first update in more than a decade.
“The law, like the coast itself, has periods of stability as well as dynamism,” says John Duff, University of Massachusetts-Boston law professor and principal author of the guide. “And over the last few years, Maine has had a variety of public access and ownership conflicts that have been reviewed by Maine Supreme Court. As a result, we decided that it was an appropriate time to revise this guide to provide Mainers and visitors with important updates.”
“Public Shoreline Access in Maine: A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law” was produced by the Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine; Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, with funding from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. Copies are available from Maine Sea Grant, 207.581.1435, firstname.lastname@example.org; from the Wells Reserve, 207.646.1555; or online at seagrant.umaine.edu/coastal-law-guide.