A new state law expands opportunities to protect working waterfront by allowing land trusts to hold covenants on such properties.

Gov. Janet Mills signed L.D. 574, “An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Working Waterfront Covenants,” in May.

“Maine’s fishing industry accounts for nearly $1 billion in annual revenues, and it’s an industry under pressure from many sides,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Morgan Rielly. “Saving Maine’s working waterfront properties from conversion to noncommercial uses is one way to protect our fishing heritage. This new law will allow Maine’s coastal land trusts the opportunity to conserve these properties, and land trusts have the resources and skills to help us accomplish this important goal.”

The primary mechanism for preserving working waterfront in perpetuity is the state’s Working Waterfront Access Protection Program, funded by Land for Maine’s Future in partnership with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Through this competitive program, the state buys the development rights on a piece of working waterfront to ensure future development will not limit commercial marine use.

Since 2008, 34 properties have been preserved through this program. Now, land trusts can provide a vehicle for private sector partners to mobilize additional funding sources and act more nimbly to save working waterfront properties.

“Maine’s iconic working waterfronts are the backbone of our coastal economy, and Maine’s land trusts are proven experts in property conservation,” said Nick Battista, chief policy officer at the Island Institute. “This important legislation holds great promise for keeping Maine’s coastline working and thriving for generations to come.”

Expanding eligibility to land trusts is particularly important in emergencies, when multiple parties must move quickly to secure funding and close a deal. Landowners may also prefer their local land trusts to hold the development rights for their property, rather than a state agency.

“As a coastal land trust, we see firsthand the development pressure threatening working waterfront,” said Julia McLeod, executive director of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. “This bill gives us a new avenue to support our town and address real community needs.”