... or information about the Critical Area Program or questions relating to State oversight of local programs, e-mail us or call 410-260-3460

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Critical Area Commission
1804 West Street
Annapolis, MD 21401



Shoreline Buffer imageEnforcement in the Critical Area

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Act (1984) and its Criteria (1986) are implemented at the local level by your county or town. Ensuring compliance is a local responsibility.

The Critical Area Law affords local jurisdictions wide discretion in deciding how to deal with violations. Natural Resources Article, Title 8, Subtitle 18 states:

“Violators of the provisions of programs approved or adopted by the Commission shall be subject to prosecution or suit by local authorities, who may invoke the sanctions and remedies afforded by State or local law.”

Most Critical Area jurisdictions prefer to work with property owners to secure compliance with the law either through the permitting process or through management plans that may include mitigation and restoration. Failing this, some planning and zoning offices issue stop work orders and levy fines of $500 or more per day per violation. Commission staff are available to assist citizens inquiring about suspected violations. This fact sheet is intended to help citizens determine whether a violation has occurred and to provide the appropriate local contacts.

Distinguishing Critical Area Violations from Other Violations

The Critical Area is generally defined as all land and water areas within 1,000 feet beyond the landward boundaries of tidal wetlands, the Bay and its tributaries. All development and land-disturbing activities within the Critical Area are guided by specific provisions found in the State-adopted Critical Area Criteria and the local Critical Area programs. Those provisions cover issues from clearing trees and removing vegetation to limiting areas of impervious surface. Below is a list of activities that, without proper approval i.e., building permit, grading permit, variance, Buffer management plan, etc., are considered violations and should be reported immediately to local authorities.

The 100-Foot Buffer

The Critical Area law provides for a 100-foot Buffer along the shoreline to provide water quality benefits and an area of transition between upland and aquatic habitats. The Critical Area Buffer is measured 100 feet inland from mean high water, the landward extent of tidal wetlands, and the edge of tributary streams. The term Buffer also includes areas where the Buffer has been expanded beyond 100 feet to include contiguous steep slopes or hydric soils.

Typical Buffer Violations

  • Clearing trees and/or vegetation in the Buffer.
  • Construction of accessory structures (sheds, pools, etc.) in the Buffer.
  • Disturbance to the Buffer like grading activities, stockpiling of construction materials or dumping.

General Critical Area Violations

  • Clearing or cutting trees anywhere within the Critical Area without a permit.
  • Building or grading without a building or grading permit.

What to Do if You Suspect a Violation

While you may witness one of the above activities, it is possible that it is not a violation. If a property owner has secured approval from the local planning and zoning office, a building and/or grading permit must be displayed on the property. If you still question whether the work is being carried out in accordance with the permit, you should call the office that issued the permit. Having the building and/or grading permit number when you call your local jurisdiction will make it easier for the person answering your call to track the permit.

Remember, permit information is public information; if you choose to remain anonymous, you do not have to give your name. At the end of this brochure you will find a list of telephone numbers for Critical Area local jurisdictions’ contacts.

Violations Enforced by the Maryland Department of the Environment
Tidal and Nontidal Wetlands Division
Call (410) 537-3510 to report suspected violations.

  • Filling of tidal and/or nontidal wetlands without permits
  • Pier construction without permits
  • Construction of structures on piers
  • Construction of shore erosion protection measures without permits
  • Clearing and/or burning of marsh vegetation

Violations Enforced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Natural Resources Police
Call (410) 260-8880 to report suspected violations.

  • Exceeding the posted speed limits on waterways
  • Abandoned boats