The law and your dock

Everything you need to know before adding a new one

The ice is gone and it is time to plan for summer. If you live on the water, you may be thinking of putting in a seasonal dock. But, you may not know that the state requires certain permits and notices for most new docks. There are some basics you should follow.

Here’s the upshot:

1) existing docks already permitted with the state should be all set and need nothing more.

2) new lake docks of a specific size need to file a “notice.”

3) new river docks of a specific size need to file a “permit by notification.”

4) new docks that don’t fit the specifications for 2) or 3) above, need different permits.

While you don’t need a permit to put a seasonal dock in a lake, you do have to notify the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) by filling out a form titled “Seasonal Dock Notification for Lakes and Ponds.” This form is available on DES’s website in the Wetlands Bureau section. To qualify for this notification process and avoid having to get a permit, your proposed dock must satisfy all of the requirements listed on the form. For example, the dock cannot be more than six feet wide and must be removed for at least five months each year. Removal can mean completely taking it out of the water or raising it out of the water by hitching it to a tree. Also, you must have at least 75 feet of shoreline frontage, and the dock must be the only dock on the frontage. There is no fee for filing your notice form.

If you want to put a dock on a river, and your dock meets the same requirements as a seasonal lake dock discussed above, you need a permit from DES. But, you may get your permit through a process known as Permit By Notification. You can find the “Permit By Notification (PBN) Form” on the DES website.

The Permit By Notification Form for a river dock requires more information than the form for a lake dock, such as a list of abutters, a tax map, a topographic map, and a drawing. Also, there are a couple things that you need to do before you send in the form. You need to notify abutters by certified mail and get prior approval from the National Heritage Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). You also need to determine if your property is within a designated river corridor or is a designated river segment. If so, you must send a copy of your local river management advisory committee.

Once you have compiled all of the information and notified who you need to notify, you send everything (and 4 copies) to the town clerk, not DES. The town clerk sends a copy to the town’s conservation commission for approval and then sends your form to DES. There is a $25 fee for DRED and a $200 fee for DES. Some towns charge a small administrative fee, as well.

For all of the details, look at the forms, the DES website, and the statute, NH RSA 482-A:3. Although the statute is sleep-inducing, it is generally written in plain English. The statute is easy to find by typing “RSA 482-A” into an internet search engine.

Don’t be afraid; with a bit of time and effort you can do the notice or the permit by notification. There are also administrative rules written by DES. The administrative rules, however, make the statute seem like an exciting read.

If the dock that you want to build is bigger or different than the docks I’ve discussed, you will probably need to apply for one or more permits from DES.

Beware that I have not included every detail here, but you can use it as a starting point.

Jason Reimers is an attorney for BCM Environmental & Land Law.

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