What is a “functional bulkhead”? Essentially, it is a bulkhead that functions as designed and is maintained in working order. Factors considered by the DEC in the determination of functionality include: if more than 50% of the footprint of the structure is missing; if the structural integrity is compromised; if the tidal wetland boundary has moved landward of the bulkhead; and, if sections are missing. In practice, the DEC tends to err on the side of caution and often will declare even a slightly damaged bulkhead non-functional if it fails to operate as designed. For example, if the bulkhead does not prevent soil from eroding into the water or the wetlands from moving landward, it may be deemed non-functional and the DEC will assert jurisdiction landward of the bulkhead.
The DEC’s regulations allow ordinary maintenance and repair, not involving expansion or substantial restoration, reconstruction or modification, to be performed without a permit. While this should be done regardless of when the bulkhead was constructed to avoid having to obtain a tidal wetlands permit in order to make substantial repairs, for the reasons set out above, it is critically important that the property owner regularly perform routine maintenance if the bulkhead was built prior to August 1977.
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