A new state law implementing a 250-foot setback for migratory shorebirds along Maine’s coast has been ruffling a lot of feathers lately.
While the setback has been on the books since 1994, it had never been implemented.
Last year, legislation enforcing the buffer rule and establishing new protections for vernal pools passed by a 128-1 margin in the House and by consent in the Senate.
State law already requires a 75-foot setback for shorebird protection. A 250-foot setback exists in Freeport and along parts of Merrymeeting Bay. This isn’t exactly an alien concept.
It ought to have been abundantly clear to anyone who read the legislation what the enhanced shorebird protections would mean.
The fact is, however, that virtually all of the debate and public comment focused on the new rules protecting seasonal spring woodland pools and little or no time was spent on discussing the shorebird buffer.
Now, several lawmakers want to delay the regulations’s onset in order to revisit them. This is appropriate only if the intent is to improve them.
Some in the real estate community see an opportunity to have the new shorebird buffer repealed entirely.
That’s an unreasonable approach.
There’s good reason to protect shorebird habitat. Some of these species are endangered. All are protected by international treaties. Maine beaches and tidal flats offer them a needed opportunity to breed, rest and fatten up during migration.
Yes, lawmakers erred by not holding meetings to remind residents that the law was finally taking effect.
The acreage covered by the setbacks is significant. Up to 17 percent of Washington County’s and Cumberland County’s coasts and 13 percent of York County’s shore qualify for protection. While much of that is unbuildable tidal flats and beaches, the impact on development potential is undeniable.
One-size-fits-all regulations tend to result in inefficiencies. It’s fair to ask if feeding areas deserve as much protection as nesting and roosting habitat.
A growing body of economic research suggests that proximity to high-quality natural landscapes, like clear lakes, national forests or wilderness areas, actually enhances property values.
Yet the state also has an obligation to ensure that new laws provide the maximum public benefit for a minimum of private loss.
The market for seaside realty isn’t going to fly south just because new houses need to be set a bit farther from the water’s edge.