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Guest Column: Access conservation started here

  1. The establishment of a current use property tax program to give waterfront property of fishermen the same fair tax treatment received by farmers and timberland owners.

  2. The pioneering use of a conservation easement by a local land conservation group to ensure access for fishermen at a dock in York that was slated for recreational development.

  3. A State-funded pilot program to protect working waterfront properties forever from conversion to incompatible uses. This State program also puts dollars in the fisherman’s pocket to reinvest in the business - a great “two-fer”!  How does that work?  By selling the right to develop the working waterfront property for incompatible uses, the fisherman is able to realize that portion of the property’s value without selling it outright. Administered as part of the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program in concert with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program has now completed 16 projects up and down the coast with one more pending project in the hopper.  With the able assistance of Coastal Enterprises Inc., the program has now helped to protect many types of property, from lobster cooperative businesses and family-owned operations to wharves owned by towns and community groups that are used by fishermen. Taken together these properties have secured nearly a mile of coastline with a fair market value of over $15 million, supporting more than 400 boats, 830 fishing industry jobs and more than 900 families.  More than 13 million pounds of seafood are landed annually at these facilities which translates into $35 million in income directly dependent on working waterfronts. That figure in turn equals more than $75 million in additional economic contribution to local economies. When the owners of these facilities sold the rights to convert them to incompatible uses, they were paid hard cash. Most of this has been reinvested in the operations. Wharfs have been rebuilt; leased property acquired outright; significant debt retired; and business operations diversified.   Just last month, this newsletter told the story of the Bremen Lobster Coop which took its $300,000 payment for development rights and repaired its wharf and build a new storage and processing facility. So what’s next? With the passage of a new bond last fall, Land for Maine’s Future and DMR are now looking for new applications this summer with another round expected later in the year.  Anyone interested in knowing more should visit the programs Web site at . The new funds are likely to be committed by the end of the year.  Thus a new Working Waterfront and LMF bond next year will be essential to continue these critical investments in Maine’s working waterfront infrastructure and to protect the jobs this investment supports. Those of us working in land conservation understand that working lands are part of the fabric of our communities. They provide jobs and support families. Farmers, loggers and fishermen all need access to their particular resource. There are strong and growing relationships now between land trusts and farmers and foresters.  The new frontier is the working waterfront.  When I talk with coastal land trusts, I ask what they are doing to help the fishermen in their communities. The responses are encouraging. Traditional access routes for clammers and wormers have been acquired and conserved.  Access to haul-out beaches has been protected.  In at least two cases, active fishing wharves have been acquired or protected. Launch sites have been made available. I know that there is more opportunity for these kinds of partnerships. Maine’s success or failure in building a sustainable future for its people depends on a spirit of collaboration and innovation, coupled with the hard work to back it up. The emerging partnerships and initiatives aimed at saving Maine’s working waterfronts are a good example of how industry, non-profits and government can work together to realize a common vision.

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