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Jim Lang, Waterfront Law Team

How to Build a Pier in Virginia – Waterfront Law Team Webinar Recap

What We Covered in Our Webinar

In our latest webinar, Jim Lang with the Waterfront Law Team and Joe Keffler with Colin Marine Construction discuss legal issues around pier construction projects, the Joint Permit Application, how to find a reputable construction contractor and the pier construction process.

Watch Our Webinar

Webinar Video Link

Download the slides from this webinar here.

Legal Issues Around Pier Construction Projects

When building a pier at one’s home or when purchasing a home with an existing pier, there are many factors for homeowners to consider. Of particular importance, homeowners must consider the potential legal risks. These include:

  • An existing pier does not conform to permit
  • An existing pier that was built without permits
  • An existing pier that was modified without permits
  • An existing pier was built outside the riparian area (if state owned bottom)
  • If false information was submitted during the regulatory process
  • If an existing pier interferes with navigation
  • If an existing pier compromises a neighbor’s view of the water (not a substantial legal risk)

How Our Clients Get Caught Up in the Legal Process

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission site, the environmental permits issued by the Habitat Management Division are of three types: subaqueous or bottomlands, tidal wetlands, and coastal primary sand dunes.

The permit process relies on a single Virginia joint local/state/federal permit application. The review process, for which this application was originally designed, takes into account various local, state and federal statutes governing the disturbance or alteration of environmental resources. The Marine Resources Commission plays a central role as an information clearinghouse for all three levels of review. Applications receive independent yet concurrent review by local wetland boards, the Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Our clients must be aware the agency can issue an order, impose a fine or sue a violator. Furthermore, another person can sue a violator.

Who Owns the Bottomland

A key piece of information to consider when considering a pier is “who owns the bottomland.”

Typically, privately owned bottomland results in one less permit and can be found in properties on a lake, pond or man-made canal. Conversely, state owned bottomland is usually found on properties that exist on bays, rivers, creeks, and shores of the sea unless conveyed via a Kings grant.

If the property resides on a privately owned bottomland, homeowners will need permission from property owner, wetlands compliance (tidal vs. nontidal), US Army Corps of Engineers if waterbody is “navigable”, a building permit from locality and occasionally, involvement from state agencies other than VMRC (such as Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Historic Resources).

If the property resides on a state-owned bottomland, homeowners will need a permit from Virginia Marine Resources Commission, wetlands compliance (tidal vs. non-tidal), US Army Corps of Engineers if waterbody is “navigable”, a building permit from locality and occasionally, involvement from state agencies other than VMRC (such as Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Historic Resources).

How to Find a Reputable Pier Designer

When a client calls us looking for a reputable pier designer, we encourage them to consider the below variables when selecting a contractor:

  • Experience
  • Word of mouth / personal recommendations
  • Contractors License
  • Correct Class
  • Correct City and State
  • Insurance
  • Marine Liability
  • Workers Compensation
  • United States Longshore & Harbor Workers Coverage
  • Additional Due Diligence
  • Reviews & word-of-mouth experiences
  • Ask to tour contractor’s previous projects

Pier Construction Process

Once it’s time to begin the actual pier construction process, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost, builders must obtain a building permit. Once complete, there are several pier options to consider – design and layout, the need for boat lifts / boat houses / floating docks /etc, and the required materials to complete the build.

After these details are ironed out, the pier build must then follow an order of operations from mobilization, pile installation, framing, decking, and incorporating the necessary pier accessories to complete the project.

Pier Pricing, Maintenance & Longevity

Finally, the pier build pricing will be determined by construction access, the overall length and square footage, any additional waterfront structures that might have been incorporated into the build and the subsequent decking material needed to complete the project. Once the project is complete and it moves into the maintenance stage, pier owners must manage the plumbing and power, the decking, and any boat lifts. To ensure longevity for the pier deck, in addition to maintenance, pier owners must be aware of the saltwater environment as well as mother nature and acts of God.

Pier Construction Process



About The Author

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Jim uses waterfront (riparian) property rights law, maritime & admiralty law, and environmental law to protect Virginians who live, work and play on the water. Contact Jim at (757) 502-7326 or jlang@pendercoward.com.