THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY JIM GOVE, GOVE ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC., IN MARCH, 2014
Last August, I was out looking at a parcel of land with a client. We had flagged the wetlands on the site the month before. We were walking along the center line of the proposed subdivision road. We had already walked over a stream channel that was dry, where a dredge and fill application would need to be filed for a crossing. We crested over a hill and looked downslope. She said to me, “is that little hole a problem?’
She was pointing to an isolated depression. The “hole” was about four feet deeper than the surrounding upland, had virtually no vegetation in the center, but did have water stains on the shrubs and trees along its border. The staining indicated that, at some time of the year, the depression held water at least two feet deep.
We had flagged the depression as a wetland.
“Could be a vernal pool,” I said.
“It’s an isolated depression that holds enough water for frogs and salamanders to lay egg masses and have the eggs successfully hatch. Work adjacent to a vernal pool may be considered a secondary impact by the Corps of Engineers that requires mitigation or an upland preservation area surrounding it,” I answered.
“We can check for the secondary indicators, but that will not really tell us how functional this pool is.”
“When can you?”
“Next spring,” I said. “We have to look for the number and type of egg masses.”
My client’s face turns ashen. Darn, another wetlands-induced heart attack on the way, I think.
“I can’t wait until next spring!” she said.
“I know,” I answered. “Unfortunately, without a vernal pool analysis, the Corps will take the approach that it is a potentially valuable pool, and impose a significant protection area around the pool. This is one of the secondary impacts that are often considered by the Corps before they sign off on a DES wetland impact permit.”
Unfortunately, I have had way too many of these difficult conversations.
Whether it is a project for a developer, a builder, a town or a school, the same rules apply. You need to have the potential vernal pools identified, checked for egg masses, and have a report of the findings prepared. And that can only happen in April and May. By the time June rolls around, the vernal pool season is virtually over.
So this is my annual appeal. Please help me to stop having to tell folks the bad news. That we won’t really be able to tell them what to expect from the federal regulatory agencies because we have not been able to do a vernal pool check.
Even if your project is just no more than the proverbial “glean in your eye”, get a wetland scientist on the parcel in April or May for the vernal pool documentation.
We have had clients come to us, who understand the process, but say, “We haven’t even had the wetlands delineated yet. What can we do?”
With GPS in hand, a wetland scientist can hike the parcel, finding any vernal pools that are present. They will document the frog and salamander egg masses, and note the location. At a future date, after the wetlands are flagged and the surveyors have prepared the existing conditions plan, the wetland scientist can overlay the vernal pool locations and note their value.
So, in conclusion, save me from the ear burn, the gnashing of teeth, the wringing of hands, the tearing of clothes, the pulling of hair and the rest of the general angst of a client realizing that a vernal study should have been done in the previous spring.
Remember, by June, it is too late!
“In My View” is an opinion article that will be emailed to you once a month. It is my view of wetland and other environmental issues that will or may affect your business or organization. It will sometimes give you updates on new rules or legislation that has recently passed. In other cases, I will discuss legislation that is “in the works” at our state capital. As the name would imply, it is my view of what this rule, legislation or change means to you. I am constantly meeting with clients, friends and local regulatory officials who are asking me what this rule means or what that piece of legislation does. For that reason, I am sending this out to associates of GES who might care to have this information. I will not be political, but I do reserve the right to be opinionated. If you do not wish to receive further articles, let us know by a “reply to”, and we will delete your name. If you know of someone who might want to receive future articles, just send this on to them and copy us. We will add them to the distribution list. If in the coming months there is a topic, law, rule or regulation that you would like me to discuss, let us know. If I feel that I am competent to say something about it, I will discuss it in the future.
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