Maine Association of REALTORS® Defends the Inter-tidal Land of Coastal Property Owners from Proposed Takings Bill

Maine Association of REALTORS® Defends the Inter-tidal Land of Coastal Property Owners from Proposed Takings Bill

September 2023

For centuries, dating back to when Maine was part of Massachusetts, the title to the inter-tidal zone, or the ‘wet sand’ area between the high and low tide, has always belonged to the “upland property owner.” The inter-tidal zone (ITZ), however, has value to commercial and industrial interests, and over the years, the state government has periodically attempted a taking; to date, the REALTORS® have successfully championed the rights of private property owners.  When the issue threatened this past spring, the Maine Association of REALTORS® again asserted a defense of those rights, and the bill was withdrawn.  An Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party was poised to support the fight.

As Claire Berger, the association’s Communications & Government Affairs Manager, explains, “The laws and court cases governing Maine’s ITZ have historically recognized the rights of the public to ‘fish, fowl, and navigate,’ but it is understood that the landowner owns down to the water, whether high tide, low tide, or anywhere in-between.  These rights were designed to ensure that the natural resources of the ocean could still be utilized, which has preserved our rocky coast and kept it so desirable.  Our position is that the individual property owner should not be expected to pay, through loss of use, for measures that benefit the public good and a broad number of citizens and which, in effect, limit the individual’s private property rights.”  The proposed government taking of the ITZ, she notes, would not only be a breach of the state’s Constitution, it would decrease property values and property tax revenue on the intertidal zone from each of the affected properties.

Who, then, is actually in favor of a government taking of Maine’s ITZ?  Typically, the move has been backed by private fishing corporations and the rockweed harvesting industry, which has been attempting to equate harvesting to fishing, for legal purposes, so that permission would no longer be required to operate on private property.  Rockweed, a seaweed with many commercial and agricultural applications, flourishes in the ITZ. The other argument stems from public opinion of beach access and recreational use of the land between the high and low tide.

The issue resurfaces every few years, reports Berger; this time, the bill was a verbatim repeat of the previous attempt made in 2019, but with new legislator sponsors. The REALTORS® prepared their defense, securing an Issues Mobilization Grant to mobilize the membership and the public to object to the over-reaching bill.  Prior to hearings, the REALTORS®’ lobbying team capitalized on their relationships in the legislature, and the bill that would have cost landowners the inter-tidal land on their property was withdrawn.

“At that point,” says Berger, “we realized that we had an important opportunity to maintain our plan to engage the membership, and we just pivoted in terms of the content.”  To heighten member awareness of the big issues the association was battling, and their ongoing support for private property rights, they created a landing page, a mailer, and digital ads, as well as internal communications to inform REALTOR® members of the priority issues that could greatly impact landowners, housing providers and the real estate industry as a whole.

“Our new goal became reawakening the advocacy skills of our REALTOR® members.  It had been four years since we’d had an in-person REALTOR® Rally Day, so it was a good refresher!”  notes Berger.  At the April event at the State House, a record turnout of about 200 members filled the historic Hall of Flags.

The Call For Action that had been planned for members to share with their coastal neighbors and clients became a more general advocacy effort, in which over 90% of Maine’s legislators heard from at least one REALTOR® from their district, most heard from many. Berger adds that the REALTORS® had a good success rate with bills they engaged on during the session, and that, looking ahead, for the second session they will be working coalition partners as well as the opposition on the ITZ issue to see if they can get to common ground before the second session, in January, where it will be returning with a different bill number and title. “We are so grateful for the continued support of the REALTOR® Party,” says Berger.  “It is strong, flexible, and responsive, and helps us advocate where it matters most.”

To learn more about how the Maine Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights – at high tide, low tide, and in-between, contact Claire Berger, Communications & Government Affairs Manager, at or 207-622-7501.

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