Issue Profile
Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA)

issued: August 2014       contact:  207-287-3901

Background

The Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) became effective on August 4, 1988.  The Act applies to the following protected natural resources: coastal wetlands and sand dunes; freshwater wetlands; great ponds; rivers, streams and brooks; fragile mountain areas, and significant wildlife habitat.  There have been significant changes and additions to the law since its enactment.   To view the current version of the NRPA, visit the DEP website at http://www.maine.gov/dep/land/nrpa/index.html for a link to the law at the Office of Revisor of Statutes’ site.

Among the changes to the NRPA have been the additions of: a streamlined wetland permitting process; cranberry, agricultural irrigation pond, and offshore wind energy demonstration general permits; and the regulation of significant groundwater wells.  In addition, a permit-by-rule process has been adopted for many routine projects.  This Issue Profile will briefly discuss these programs, but there are separate Issue Profiles and information pamphlets concerning wetland permitting, irrigation ponds, cranberry bogs and the permit-by-rule program.  If you think these will apply to you, or if you just are not sure, call the nearest DEP office and ask to speak with a staff person.

What is the intent of the Natural Resources Protection Act?

The NRPA recognizes the State significance of these natural resources in terms of their recreational, historical, and environmental value to present and future generations.  The Act's intent is to prevent any unreasonable impact to, degradation of or destruction of the resources and to encourage their protection or enhancement. 

What activities require an NRPA permit?

Permits are required for certain activities that occur in, on, or over any protected natural resource area or on land adjacent to any great pond, river, stream or brook, coastal wetland and some freshwater wetlands.

Activities requiring a permit include:

  • dredging, bulldozing, removing, or displacing soil, sand, vegetation, or other materials;
  • draining or otherwise dewatering;
  • filling, including adding sand or other material to a beach or sand dune;
  • constructing, repairing or altering any permanent structure (A permanent structure is one placed or constructed in a fixed location for a period exceeding 7 months of the year).

What environmental standards must the proposed activity meet?

To receive an NRPA permit, the applicant must demonstrate that the proposed activity will NOT:

  • unreasonably interfere with existing scenic, aesthetic, recreational, or navigational uses
  • cause unreasonable erosion of soil or sediment, or prevent naturally occurring erosion
  • unreasonably harm any significant wildlife, fisheries or aquatic habitat
  • unreasonably interfere with the natural flow of any surface or subsurface waters
  • lower water quality
  • cause or increase flooding
  • unreasonably interfere with supply or movement of sand to sand dune areas
  • cross a river segment identified in the NRPA as "outstanding" unless no other alternative having less adverse impact on the river exists.

How do I know if I need a permit?

Generally, you will need a permit if you are working in, on, over, or within 75 feet of a protected natural resource. The definitions of each of the protected natural resources are contained within the law.  In most cases, determining whether or not your project is in the resource itself, a great pond for instance, is not difficult.  However, identifying the boundary of a resource can be more of a problem.  In particular, determining wetland boundaries may require technical expertise. If you are at all unsure about whether or not a NRPA permit is required for your project, contact the appropriate DEP office and arrange for a staff visit.

Can I use maps to identify wetlands?

At present, National Wetland Inventory Maps are available for most of the state. These maps may be viewed at any DEP office. However, these maps should only be relied on for general guidance. There are many areas which are not mapped that are considered to be wetlands and mapped wetland boundaries may not always be accurate. Whether or not maps are available, a site inspection by a professional consultant or a DEP staff member may be necessary to positively determine whether an area is in fact a wetland.

What about fragile mountain areas and significant wildlife habitat?

Fragile mountain areas are defined as areas above 2700 feet in elevation from mean sea level.  These areas can be easily identified from contour lines on Natural Resources Information and Mapping Center topographic maps.

Significant wildlife habitats that may be regulated by NRPA are listed in the law. Some of them must be mapped by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MIF&W) and formally adopted through a rule-making process before they become regulated.  However, significant vernal pools, high and moderate value waterfowl and wading bird habitats, and shorebird nesting, feeding, and staging areas are regulated if an area meets the criteria contained in IF&W and DEP rules and is located on a GIS datalayer maintained by IF&W.  Current maps of significant wildlife habitat are available on DEP’s website at http://www.maine.gov/dep/gis/datamaps/index.html.  You don't need a permit for altering any significant wildlife habitat area that has not been mapped or located on a GIS data layer, unless the area is located in another protected natural resource such as a wetland or river.

What is the permitting process?

Once it has been determined that the project is in or adjacent to a protected natural resource, the next step is to determine which permitting process applies.  Many projects, such as the replacement of permanent structures and most stream crossings, can qualify for Permit by Rule.  To do so, the project must meet specific standards.  If the standards cannot be met then a full NRPA permit is required. 

If the project involves a freshwater wetland only, then the project may qualify for licensing under a tiered review process.  For smaller projects in relatively low value wetlands, the process guarantees quicker review times with less paperwork. 

The NRPA also contains three general permits: one for the construction of cranberry bogs in freshwater wetlands; one for the construction of agricultural irrigation ponds in streams; and one for offshore wind energy demonstration projects.  Before filing notifications for projects of either type, it is highly recommended you first contact DEP staff to discuss your project and to determine if the general permit process is applicable.  

NRPA and Tier applications have been combined for your convenience, but information required may vary.  If you have questions about which process is appropriate for your proposed activity, contact the Department at the appropriate regional office.

Is there an application fee?

Yes.  For all applications including PBR, the fee is based on the type of activity proposed and the natural resource involved.  For alterations of freshwater wetlands that qualify for the tiered review process, fees also vary depending on the amount of wetland being impacted.  In general, higher fees reflect activities that require more intensive review by DEP staff.  To find the current fee for all NRPA application types, please check the fee schedule for NRPA applications at http://www.maine.gov/dep/feesched.pdf.

How long does it take to get a permit?

That depends on the complexity of the proposed activity, its potential to adversely affect the environment, and the quality of the application.  By law, the commissioner of the DEP is annually required to set processing times on applications.  Currently, permit-by-rules must be processed in no more than 14 days.  Tier 1 wetland applications must be processed in 45 days and the Tier 2 applications are completed within the maximum of 90 days.  Review times vary for the different types of general permits.  The maximum processing time for most full NRPA applications is 120 calendar days, but most applications are processed in a shorter time period.  If the project is unusually complex or there is a problem with the quality of an application, processing will occasionally take the maximum processing time.

How do NRPA permits issued by DEP relate to other permits I may need for my activity?

DEP permits do not incorporate or supersede any other State, federal or local permits, although Water Quality Certification, required under the Clean Water Act, is issued concurrently with a NRPA permit.

Be sure to check with your own town and DEP to find out what permits are required for your proposed activity.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the most common federal agency involved with projects located in waterways and wetlands.  The Corps' Maine Project Office is located in Manchester, Maine and can be reached at (207) 623-8367.  For activities that only affect freshwater wetlands and qualify for tiered review, a joint application for both the state and federal permits is available through the DEP.  These applications are jointly reviewed by the DEP and Army Corps providing "one step" permitting for applicants.

Where can I get additional information?

For additional information, contact the DEP office closest to you, asking specifically for a staff person in the NRPA program:

  • Portland -- 312 Canco Road, Portland, ME 04103
    (207) 822-6300
    Toll free 1-888-769-1036
  • Augusta -- 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0017
    (207) 287-3901
    Toll free 1-800-452-1942
  • Bangor -- 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, ME 04401
    (207) 941-4570
    Toll free 1-888-769-1137
  • Presque Isle -- 1235 Central Drive, Presque Isle, ME 04769-2094
    (207) 764-0477
    Toll free 1-888-769-1053

Other Issue Profiles/Fact Sheets:
            Wetlands Protection:  A Federal, State & Local Partnership
            Maine's Wetlands:  Their Functions & Values
            Wetland Compensation:  Techniques for Restoring Lost Functions & Values
            Designing Projects to Minimize Impacts upon Natural Resources
            Permit-by-Rule (NRPA)
            Planning Projects to Meet Permit-by-Rule Standards
            Agricultural Irrigation Ponds
            New Authority over Activities Adjacent to Protected Natural Resources

Website for NRPA is http://www.maine.gov/dep/land/nrpa/index.html

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