Marine Construction

Commissioners Line

Please note that a pre-application meeting with the Harbor Master is highly recommended. Contact the Harbor Master's Office (207-772-8121) to arrange for a meeting.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners’ oversees all marine construction activities in both Portland (including the islands) and South Portland, which is the jurisdiction of the Board. The Board’s authority over marine construction in Portland Harbor and the islands is established under Maine Private and Special Laws 1981, chapter 98. Marine construction rules are identified in the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Harbor Commissioners for the Portland of Portland, Maine under Rule 13.0 Work Permits. 

Construction permits are required for any new construction or maintenance that results in an obstruction to navigation within navigable waters of the Board’s jurisdiction. The Board is obligated to ensure that construction or maintenance of existing marine structures does not “substantially or unreasonably interfere with navigation or injure the rights of others.”

Rule 13.0 includes a provision for maintenance of existing structures that do not require a work permit as identified in section 13.3 of the Board’s rules. However, section 13.5 of the rules requires a letter of intent from construction permit applicants that describes the type of maintenance work to be performed. This allows the Board to be informed of all maintenance activities, and then the Board makes a determination whether or not the proposed work meets the permit exemption under Rule 13.0. This requirement of notification to the Board applies to all contractors, property owners, and developers. The work permit exemption for existing structures may be granted provided the following conditions are met:

The foot print of the existing structure is not increased

The same type of material, or something substantially similar, is used

Any pilings being replaced are one-for-one replacement meaning they are located in the same location as the 

old pilings and the total number does not change

The Board has a long-standing policy to notify both code enforcement offices in Portland and South Portland of all marine construction permits and letters of intent for maintenance work that is exempt from permitting requirements. However, other local, state or federal permitting requirements for marine construction may still be required under other ordinances, laws or rules. 

Due to staffing changes with the Board as well as within city code enforcement offices, the notification of work permits issued as well as letters of intent for maintenance work has become less regular. However, the Board is committed to notifying both cities of all work permits issued and letters of intent received from property owners or their representatives via a monthly report from the Portland Harbormaster beginning immediately. 

The Board’s primary responsibilities are to ensure navigational safety within the harbor. The Board does not have mandatory standards for marine construction techniques; however, the guidance document from the Maine State Planning Office, titled The Waterfront Construction Handbook: Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Waterfront Facilities provides assistance for design options. In particular, the type of use on a specific marine structure (i.e., pier or floating dock) is not regulated by the Board unless it has an impact on navigational safety. An example of a use that would be of concern for the Board is the type of vessel that will regularly berth along side a new marine structure permitted by the Board. However, the use of an existing or a newly constructed building on a pier, for instance, would not trigger review by the Board since it is expected that city code enforcement offices and state regulators have jurisdiction over these matters.