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Officials to consider strengthening wetland protections for vernal pools

The town is looking to strengthen its wetland protection standards, particularly in areas where vernal pools are present.

The Town Council on Feb. 10, 2020 directed its ordinance subcommittee to review and update permitting standards to emphasize avoidance, and minimization, of wetland alterations. The action is one of the recommendations of the 2019 Comprehensive Plan.

The referral was made at the request of Shore Road resident Suzanne McGinn, who said she was responding to the clearing and filling of wetland at the Ocean House Common development under construction at 326 Ocean House Road.

The development was granted a permit to fill 3,500 square feet of wetland, including a vernal pool – a shallow depression that ponds in the spring and provides a breeding ground for certain species of wildlife. A 2016 wetlands study found no evidence of high-value habitat, however, and it was not classified as "significant" by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

In an email to the Town Council, McGinn cited a 2014 report showing evidence of fairy shrimp, a fresh-water crustacean that lives only in vernal pools, which should have qualified it for protection. She said the report could not be considered by the state, however, because it was not submitted by the property owner. "The 2014 report technically belonged to the landowner, and it is the landowner's responsibility to submit the report to the state," she said in her email.

Cape Elizabeth wetland standards are already more stringent than the state's, and McGinn asked the council to consider ways to further protect vernal pools. "I think it's important that we step up and try to fill the holes that are at the state level to preserve the rural character of our community," McGinn said, thanking the council for their action Feb. 10.

After review by the Ordinance Committee, the council will forward its recommendation to the Planning Board for review and recommendation. The board and council will hold public hearings before any the council approves amendments.