Camden Harbor as seen from Mt. Battie. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

As towns on Maine’s midcoast see more property owners wanting to build their own docks, two towns are considering moratoriums. The move would pause building of private piers so the towns could create new guidelines before the natural landscape and public access are irrevocably harmed. 

In both Camden and Lincolnville, residents will soon decide whether to enact a moratorium on the construction of privately owned residential piers, docks, floats and ramps in their coastal waters. 

Proponents say the pause will allow the municipalities to review local zoning rules to ensure they are adequate to address these types of development. It will also allow the municipalities to decide if private piers should be permitted at all in certain coastal areas. 

“It’s this massive thing right in the intertidal zone where the public is supposed to have a right of way in order for fishing, fowling and navigation, to just to be able to get back and forth between two different public access points, and all the sudden there is this pier there,” Camden Select Board Member Alison McKellar said. “It’s this private thing that is forever in public space, so I think we need to view that with caution.” 

In Lincolnville, voters will decide on the proposed moratorium at a town meeting on May 25. The action was sparked by a citizen’s petition that began circulating after private property owners on Shag Rock Point proposed to build a 300-foot-long pier.  

If built, the pier would be roughly the same size as the Maine State Ferry Pier in Lincolnville Harbor, and would be used for swimming, fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking and docking a boat. That concerns some Lincolnville residents, who argue it would marr an undisturbed section of coastline, detracting from the scenic beauty and harming navigation and public use of the intertidal zone.

Because it would extend into the intertidal zone, approval from the Maine Department of Environment Protection for a Natural Resources Protection Act permit is required, as well as a submerged lands lease from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. That application with the DEP is still pending. The submerged lands lease from the Bureau of Parks and Lands is waiting on the return of the signed lease from the property owners. 

An application for the pier has not yet been filed with the town, according to Town Administrator David Kinney. 

Lincolnville resident John Pincince, who helped organize the petition, said he hopes the 180-day moratorium will result in a plan for how the town should handle potential pier development, especially along the stretch of open coastline where the proposed pier would be located. 

“[E]ssentially what kind of town do we want to live in? Is it going to be a place where people can just put piers wherever they want or is it going to be something that we cherish for nature and for beauty and navigation and fishing and all those things,” Pincince said.

In the neighboring town of Camden, several recent applications for private piers in the town’s outer harbor areas has prompted the select board to propose its own 180-day moratorium, which would pause pier projects that were not approved by March 15. 

Over the last two years there have been two proposals for private piers along the harbor, as well as one for a ramp and float system. Two proposals have already been approved, but one residential pier application for a property on Bay View Street is still being considered.

“Given that it’s a pretty small town and that’s a pretty huge investment on a piece of property it’s notable to have more than one of them,” Camden Town Manager Audra Caler said. 

Caler said the select board felt now was the time to consider pausing this type of development. If passed, the moratorium will allow the board to look into amending their ordinance requirements to ensure piers are built to withstand climate change, as well as consider just how many of these private piers the town thinks is acceptable to allow. 

McKellar first raised concerns about the impacts of private piers in the harbor and the town’s process for reviewing them in March during the approval of a pier in Sherman’s Cove. 

She said private piers can impede on public access to and use of the intertidal zone, and can cause problems with things like mooring placements and navigation.

With limited space still available in Camden Harbor, McKellar said she feels priority over the remaining space should be given to piers that would serve the greatest number of people ― such as commercial or public piers ― as opposed to just a single private residence. 

“We have this just incredible natural resource that is the rocky natural Maine coastline and people come from all over the world to see it and enjoy that natural beauty that the area was blessed with,” McKellar said. “The best possible thing we can do for this generation and future generations is to protect that.”