Before You Build A Wharf Or Do Other Work On The Shore Of Your Coastal Waterfront Property

Topics : Wharf Construction | Boat Ramp Construction | Repair to Existing Wharves | Breakwater Construction | Infilling | Bank Protection | Moorings | Disclaimer/Further Information| Applying for a Permit

Important commercial and recreational species of fish and shellfish need quality habitat to thrive. Waterfront construction must be planned to help protect the areas where these species live and grow. It's that simple - no habitat, no fish.

Impacts on Fish and Fish Habitat

Fish and shellfish have specific environmental needs. They cannot survive in an area if the characteristics of their habitat change beyond their tolerance.

Fish, shellfish, aquatic insects, and their habitats can be severely affected by waterfront activities and construction in waterways and along coastlines:

  • Construction-related chemicals, machinery fuels and lubricants, and wood preservatives can be toxic to marine life.
  • Infilling eliminates suitable aquatic wildlife habitat.
  • Wharves, breakwaters and causeways change water current patterns, and can cause erosion and sedimentation severely changing habitat conditions.
  • Suspended sediment or silt smothers fish, shellfish eggs, and insect larvae. It reduces the production of food organisms for recreational and commercial species and transforms important, productive habitat into aquatic wastelands.
Guidelines

The guidelines outlined below are designed to accommodate most requests. However, it is recognized that they may not meet the requirements of special situations that occur along Nova Scotia's diverse shorelines. Where the physical environment demands construction beyond the scope of these guidelines, you must make special application at your local Department of Natural Resources office. Your application will be subject to review by, and approval from, other departments and an environmental assessment may be required.

Wharves and boat ramps must be constructed of materials which do not leach toxins and are free of oil, grease and other contaminants. Wood treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol (PCP) may not be used.

Wharf Construction

The wharf must not exceed 3.66 metres (12 feet) in width and 30.48 metres (100 feet) in length (beyond the OHWM).

The wharf may be supported by cribs or poles. Infilling is not permitted, with the exception of clean, non-toxic material from a non-waterbody source, used to fill cribwork.

A space of at least 1.22 metres (4 feet) must be maintained between any supporting poles. Crib structures are not to be sheathed in below the ordinary high water level.

Crib dimensions may not exceed 3.66 metres (12 feet) in any direction.

An open span of at least 3.05 metres (10 feet) must be maintained between each crib.

The first crib must be located either entirely on the landward side of the OHWM or at least 3.05 metres (10 feet) from, and on the seaward side of, the OHWM. The first crib is not permitted to straddle the OHWM.

Boat Ramp Construction

The boat ramp must not exceed 4.57 metres (15 feet) in width. Total coverage of the bed of the body of water below the OHWM by all portions of the boat ramp must not exceed 27.9 square metres (300 square feet). Existing rocks within the proposed ramp area may be moved aside, by hand or machine, provided they are not removed from the waterbody.

Repair To Existing Wharves

A permit is required to repair an existing wharf, unless

- the work is limited to that portion of the wharf which is above the level of ordinary high water; and
- the work will not substantially increase the size of the wharf.

In any event, wharf repairs must be carried out in accordance with Department of Natural Resources general guidelines. Contact your local Department of Natural Resources office for further information.

Breakwater Construction

Solid breakwaters can have a significant impact on the coastal environment. The preferred method for creating shelter water for a craft is to place baffles between the spans of a crib or poles of a constructed wharf, or to place sheathing as prescribed by a permit.

Infilling

Illegal Infill Infilling in front of recreational or residential properties is generally not permitted.

An application to infill may be considered if the project is likely to result in a public benefit. The application would be subject to extensive review by staff of the Department of Natural Resources. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada) would also review the project to identify any possible navigation and fish habitat concerns. In most instances, the proponent is required to purchase the infilled land if the project is approved.

Bank Protection

Bank protection work which is carried out entirely above the ordinary high water mark of your property does not require a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. However, you are responsible for implementing proper erosion control measures to protect the aquatic environment from siltation.

If the bank protection requires placement of material, or operation of machinery, below the ordinary high water mark, you are required to obtain a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. The project may also be subject to review by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada).

Moorings

Moorings must be constructed of materials which do not leach toxins and are free of oil, grease and other contaminants.

Owners of waterfront property are generally permitted to place one mooring in front of and within 60 metres (197 feet) of their property, without a permit. Other persons who wish to place moorings within this area generally require the consent of the owner of the upland property and a permit from the Department of Natural Resouces.

Moorings located more than 60 metres (197 feet) from the shoreline may be permitted without the consent of the upland owner, at the discretion of the Department of Natural Resources.

Disclaimer / Further Information

The above is provided for general information purposes only. For more detailed information, please contact any Department of Natural Resources office. (For construction activities in fresh water, please contact the Department of Environment and Labour).

Applying for a Permit

Before building a wharf or any other structure below the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) of any coastal waters, you must have a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. If you follow standard guidelines, the application can be processed at the Department of Natural Resources office near your property. In most instances, the land covered by water is Crown land, and various acts and policies apply to the use of the land.

You can apply online or download an application form from our website. Your application must include the following:

  • The location of your property and information about what you want to construct. A sample sketch for a Coastal Permit application is available on our website.  
  • The consent of the upland property owner is required if that person is not the applicant. If the upland is owned by more than one person, the consent must be signed by all owners.  If the upland is owned by an incorporated body, the consent must be signed by an authorized officer or agent of the corporation. If you are not the upland property owner and you are applying online, please attach the signed Consent Form to your application.

For construction in fresh water, you must contact the Department of Environment and Labour.