A Guide to the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act is a critical piece of environmental legislation that safeguards the state's precious water resources and fragile shoreland ecosystems. This comprehensive guide dives deep into the act's key provisions, exploring the regulated activities, enforceable standards, and compliance obligations that shape development projects across Maine's diverse landscape. From understanding the act's structure and applicability to navigating the complex web of permitting requirements and enforcement mechanisms, this guide provides a roadmap for successfully managing projects in accordance with the state's stringent shoreland zoning regulations. With a focus on recent regulatory developments, essential resources, and strategies for proactive compliance, this guide equips readers with the knowledge and tools necessary to minimize environmental impacts, avoid costly violations, and contribute to the sustainable development of Maine's cherished shoreland areas.


Key Details of the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act

Issuing Agency: Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

Year Established: 1971

Last Amended: 2015

Statutory Authority: Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B, §435-449 of the Maine Revised Statutes1

Primary Legal Reference: Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B, §435-449 of the Maine Revised Statutes

Overview of the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act is a state-level regulation that operates within the broader framework of Maine's environmental laws, which aim to protect and preserve the state's natural resources. This Act specifically focuses on regulating land use and development activities within 250 feet of the normal high-water line of great ponds, rivers, tidal waters, and freshwater and coastal wetlands2.

The primary goal of the Act is to prevent and control water pollution, protect fish spawning grounds, aquatic life, bird and other wildlife habitat, and conserve shore cover, visual as well as actual points of access to inland and coastal waters, and natural beauty3. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the primary state agency responsible for administering and enforcing the Act.

Originally enacted in 1971, the Act has undergone several amendments over the years to strengthen its provisions and adapt to changing environmental needs.

The Act achieves its goals by requiring municipalities to adopt, administer, and enforce local ordinances that regulate land use activities in the shoreland zone. These ordinances must be consistent with or exceed the minimum guidelines established by the Maine DEP4.

What does the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act protect?

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act protects various water resources and their adjacent lands. Specifically, it protects great ponds, rivers, tidal waters, and freshwater and coastal wetlands from the negative impacts of unregulated development and land use activities within 250 feet of their normal high-water line2. The Act achieves this protection by requiring municipalities to adopt and enforce zoning ordinances that control building sites, placement of structures and land uses, and establish minimum lot sizes and setbacks from the water. These measures help to prevent water pollution, conserve shore cover and wildlife habitat, and preserve the natural beauty of Maine's shoreland areas.


Regulated Activities & Entities

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, as outlined in Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B of the Maine Revised Statutes5, regulates various activities and entities that operate within the shoreland areas of the state. The act aims to protect water quality, prevent erosion, conserve wildlife habitat, and preserve the natural beauty of Maine's shoreland areas6.

The regulated shoreland areas include land within:

  • 250 feet of the normal high-water line of any great pond or river
  • 250 feet of the upland edge of a coastal wetland or non-forested freshwater wetland of 10 or more contiguous acres
  • 75 feet of the normal high-water line of a stream7

Under the act, the following activities and substances are prohibited in shoreland areas:

  1. Disposal of hazardous materials: The discharge or disposal of any hazardous materials, such as oil, pesticides, or other toxic substances, is strictly prohibited to prevent contamination of water resources8.
  2. Uncontrolled erosion: Activities that cause uncontrolled erosion or sedimentation, such as clearcutting or improper construction practices, are prohibited to maintain the stability of shoreland soils and protect water quality9.
  3. Damage to natural vegetation: The removal or destruction of natural vegetation within the shoreland zone is restricted to prevent erosion, maintain water quality, and preserve wildlife habitat10.
  4. Unsustainable timber harvesting: Timber harvesting practices that fail to protect water quality, prevent erosion, or ensure sustainable forest management are prohibited11.

These prohibitions are essential for maintaining the ecological integrity of Maine's shoreland areas and ensuring the long-term health of the state's water resources, wildlife populations, and natural landscapes.

Structure and Key Provisions

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act is structured into several key sections that outline the act's objectives, definitions, requirements, and enforcement mechanisms. The most important sections for stakeholders to understand include:

Section 435: Shoreland areas

This section defines the shoreland areas subject to regulation under the act, including land within 250 feet of great ponds, rivers, coastal wetlands, and large freshwater wetlands, as well as land within 75 feet of streams12.

Section 436-A: Definitions

This section provides definitions for key terms used throughout the act, such as "great pond," "river," "wetland," and "timber harvesting"13. Understanding these definitions is crucial for determining the applicability of the act to specific projects or activities.

Section 438-A: Municipal authority; state oversight

This section outlines the responsibilities of municipalities in adopting, administering, and enforcing local shoreland zoning ordinances that meet or exceed the state's minimum guidelines14. It also establishes the authority of the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to oversee municipal compliance and enforce the act's provisions.

Section 439-A: Additional municipal powers, limitations

This section grants municipalities the power to adopt shoreland zoning ordinances that are more stringent than the state's minimum guidelines, provided they are consistent with the act's purposes and provisions15. It also sets forth limitations on municipal authority, such as prohibiting ordinances that discriminate against specific land uses or are contrary to state law.

Stakeholders should always consult the full text of the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act and engage with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and local municipal authorities for project-specific guidance and requirements. The act's provisions are complex and may have varying implications depending on the specific nature and location of a proposed development project.


Regulatory Standards & Limitation

The Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act establishes various standards and limitations to protect water quality, prevent erosion, conserve wildlife habitat, and preserve the natural beauty of shoreland areas.16 These standards are implemented through municipal ordinances that must be consistent with or exceed the minimum guidelines set by the Act.17 Key standards and limitations include:

  • Minimum lot sizes and shore frontages
  • Building setbacks from water bodies
  • Clearing limitations for vegetation
  • Erosbes and sedimentation con
  • Erosion and sedimentation control measures
  • Performance standards for land uses18

Municipal code enforcement officers are primarily responsible for enforcing these standards, with oversight from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).19

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Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

In recent years, the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act has undergone several significant amendments and policy changes that have shaped the current regulatory landscape. One of the most notable developments was the passage of L.D. 1830 in 2018, which aimed to provide more flexibility to municipalities in administering and enforcing shoreland zoning ordinances21. This amendment allowed municipalities to adopt alternative shoreland zoning ordinances that are equally or more effective at protecting water quality and wildlife habitat than the state's minimum guidelines22.

Another important development was the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's decision in the case of Hartwell v. Town of Ogunquit in 201923. The court ruled that a town's shoreland zoning ordinance, which prohibited the construction of a dock on a property located within a Resource Protection District, was not a compensable taking under the Maine Constitution24. This decision reaffirmed the validity of shoreland zoning restrictions and their role in protecting sensitive environmental areas.

Looking ahead, there are several proposed amendments and potential policy shifts that could affect the implementation and interpretation of the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act. For example, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is currently considering revisions to the state's minimum shoreland zoning guidelines to address emerging issues such as sea-level rise and coastal resiliency25. These revisions could potentially require municipalities to adopt more stringent zoning regulations in vulnerable coastal areas.

To stay informed about these developments and participate in the regulatory process, stakeholders can monitor the DEP's website for updates on proposed rule changes and public comment periods26. They can also join relevant mailing lists, such as the Maine Municipal Association's "Legislative Bulletin" or the Maine Association of Planners' "MAP-ping the News,"

Additional Resources

Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act Full Text: The complete text of the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, including all amendments and updates.


  1. Maine Revised Statutes, Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B, §435-449.

  2. Maine Department of Environmental Protection. (n.d.). Mandatory Shoreland Zoning. 2

  3. Maine Revised Statutes, Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B, §435.

  4. Maine Revised Statutes, Title 38, Chapter 3, Subchapter 1, Article 2-B, §438-A.

  5. 38 M.R.S.A. § 435-449 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec435.html

  6. 38 M.R.S.A. § 435 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec435.html

  7. 38 M.R.S.A. § 435 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec435.html

  8. 38 M.R.S.A. § 441 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec441.html

  9. 38 M.R.S.A. § 441 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec441.html

  10. 38 M.R.S.A. § 439-A (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec439-A.html

  11. 38 M.R.S.A. § 438-B (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec438-B.html

  12. 38 M.R.S.A. § 435 (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec435.html

  13. 38 M.R.S.A. § 436-A (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec436-A.html

  14. 38 M.R.S.A. § 438-A (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec438-A.html

  15. 38 M.R.S.A. § 439-A (2021), https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/38/title38sec439-A.html

  16. 38 M.R.S. § 435 et seq.

  17. 06-096 C.M.R. ch. 1000, § 1.

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  21. L.D. 1830, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Issuance of Permits for the Excavation of Certain Shoreland Areas, 128th Leg., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Me. 2018).

  22. Id. § 1.

  23. Hartwell v. Town of Ogunquit, 2019 ME 53, 206 A.3d 895.

  24. Id. at ¶ 21.

  25. Me. Dep't of Env't Prot., Shoreland Zoning Rule Revisions (proposed Mar. 15, 2021), https://www.maine.gov/dep/land/slz/rulemaking.html.

  26. Me. Dep't of Env't Prot., Rulemaking, https://www.maine.gov/dep/rules/index.html

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Maine Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.