Stabilize the bluff by planting vegetation

Planting vegetation can help stabilize slightly or moderately eroding bluffs. Vegetation tends to remove ground water, strengthen soil with roots, and lessen the impact of heavy rain on the bluff face.

The Washington Department of Ecology's guide on vegetative planting techniques contains many techniques applicable to Maine, though plant species will be different. The Maine Natural Areas Program's Natural Landscapes of Maine: A Guide to Natural Communities and Ecosystems provides guidance on existing dominant vegetative species in different landscapes in Maine. A database of plant communities located at coastal headlands can be used as general guidance. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has compiled a listing of native plant species in Maine. For additional information on bluff-appropriate vegetation species and techniques in Maine, consult with local garden centers and landscape architects.

Clearing vegetation from the bluff face may lead to increased erosion in the short term while new vegetation is established. Be careful when considering removing one type of vegetation in order to establish another. Removal of vegetation within a shoreland zone may require a permit from the municipality.

In most cases, establishing vegetation along the shoreline is a good Best Management Practice (BMP), and often is most effective when combined with other measures such as drainage improvements, changes to the bluff slope and/or the installation of rip-rap. The Maine Erosion and Sediment Control BMP Manual provides a detailed description of all the structural and non-structural methods to mitigate erosion.

Follow the steps below to gain the environmental and regulatory information needed for decision making. The steps are listed in general order although some steps may be conducted concurrently.

1) Contact local, state and/or federal officials to obtain regulatory advice. Individuals experienced with coastal regulations may not need to seek regulatory advice in all cases; however, if in doubt seek advice before proceeding with a project.

2) Obtain an assessment from a certified engineer, landscape architect, or other qualified environmental professional. In most cases, local, state, and/or federal regulators can help identify the best professional discipline to assist with a specific project. And sometimes it is helpful to have the consultant completing the environmental assessment and the construction contractor present at regulatory consultation meetings.

3) Owners of coastal property along eroding bluffs or near landslide-prone areas should check their insurance coverage to make sure they have adequate liability coverage related to loss due to landslides or shoreline erosion, as well as flood insurance.

4) If implementation of one or more Best Management Practices (BMPs) is recommended, develop an erosion mitigation plan. The plan does not need to be prepared by a professional in all cases; however, a good, clear plan can improve the efficiency and timeliness of any permitting that may be required. Good plans also will be beneficial to the construction contractor and can help avoid costly mistakes during the construction process.

5) Be neighborly. If the plan involves work at or near a property boundary, consider sharing the plan with the abutter(s) to make sure they fully understand the work to be performed and the potential impact to drainage on their property. This consultation is a courtesy at this stage, and not a regulatory mandate, however obtaining “buy in” from abutter(s) can potentially avoid neighbor disputes that lead to costly permitting and/or construction delays.

6) Share plans with local code enforcement to determine what, if any, local ordinances apply. Local Shoreland Zoning requirements will determine the acceptable location for structures such as drainage features, catch basins, roads/driveways, paths, etc.

7) If the plan involves alterations within 75 feet of highest annual tide (HAT), within or adjacent to another protected natural resource as defined by the Maine Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA), or within a development permitted by the Site Location of Development Act (Site Law), a permit will likely be required. Typically work within 25 feet of the highest annual tide line is not allowed under permit-by-rule, however, there is some exception for disturbances associated with establishing vegetation. An individual permit will be required for any plan that does not qualify for permit-by-rule, and alterations to a development or a lot within a development permitted under the Site Law may require a permit revision.

8) If the plan involves work below the HAT, and/or in a freshwater wetland or habitat for endangered or threatened species, a federal permit under the Federal Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act may be required. Share the plan with all applicable federal authorities to determine which permits may be necessary.

9) It is good general practice to hire contractors that are experienced with coastal stabilization projects and the implementation of Best Management Practices.