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Vernal Pools

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
If you are planning to develop or sell a parcel of rural land and have not heard of vernal pools, this article was written for you. Vernal pools are shallow land depressions that collect water in the spring and, due to the absence of fish, become breeding habitats for a variety of amphibious species.
In 2006 under the National Resources Protection Act (NRPA), the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revised its regulations restricting development activities in or around “significant” vernal pools (SVP). These new regulations went into effect with little attention this past September, but their impact could be very significant. An SVP is determined by the presence of state-listed endangered or threatened species of turtles and dragonflies or the abundance of certain species of salamanders, frogs, and shrimp.
The Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (IFW) was tasked with locating these SVP’s and mapping them on the GIS Data Catalog. This task was never completed, but the fact that all of the SVP’s are not known does not relieve the developer’s responsibility to locate the SVP’s on his or her property and meet the current regulations.
Because the SVP’s are seasonal, they can only be studied in certain weeks between April 7th and May 31st depending on the species and the location in the state. This assumes the developer can engage a qualified consultant to conduct the study of egg mass counts and other field work to determine conclusively whether a DEP Permit by Rule or an NRPA approval is required. Needless to say, if this narrow window of opportunity is missed, the project may be delayed a year.
These permits will restrict activity within at least 250 feet of the SVP. When the project involves federal agencies, the habitat protection area can extend to 750 feet. Planning is critical if a project is not to be sunk by a vernal pool.