Maine Concealing Protected Vernal Pools on Sears Island

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Islesboro Islands Trust and PEER logosFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 27, 2024
Kyla Bennett [PEER] (508) 230-9933 
Steve Miller [IIT] (207) 734-6907 


Maine Concealing Protected Vernal Pools on Sears Island

Significant Vernal Pool Habitat Is Another Hurdle for Proposed Port


Washington, DC — The State of Maine refused to give permission to citizen scientists to submit evidence of legally protected vernal pools on the Maine Department of Transportation-owned parcel of Sears Island, one of the largest undeveloped islands on our Atlantic seaboard, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These vernal pools would be yet another hurdle for MDOT in its plans to develop Sears Island as a logistical support hub for future offshore wind operations.

On April 13, 2024, two citizen scientists, one with degrees in both plant ecology and conservation biology, observed three vernal pools on MDOT’s Sears Island parcel, took pictures and video, and recorded their data following Maine State Vernal Pool Assessment protocols. They found 140 wood frog and 50 spotted salamander egg masses in one pool, and 60 wood frog and 20 spotted salamander egg masses in another.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, “Significant vernal pool habitat is protected by law under the Natural Resources Protection Act. An activity in, on, or over these areas must avoid unreasonable impacts on the significant vernal pool habitat.” Yet, Maine Inland Fish and Wildlife (IF&W), the state agency responsible for recording significant vernal pools, will not recognize these documented observations of significant vernal pools on Sears Island without proof that MDOT had provided permission to access the property. Instead, IF&W stated:

MaineDOT hired a qualified consultant to complete vernal pool surveys on this parcel this spring as well.  We are looking at the data that they collected to compare to your information. mFor consistency, we prefer to used (sic) our qualified consultants information for submittal on these pools to IF+W.

MDOT’s consultant referenced by IF&W stated in a January 2024 document that it “did not identify any potential vernal pools within the Study Area.”

Moreover, the Sears Island Planning Initiative (SIPI) Consensus Agreement of 2007, approved by the Commissioner of MDOT, states, “Uses currently occurring in the area reserved for the port development shall continue to be allowed in that area until such time as a port proposal completes the regulatory process.” Conservation activities such as the identification of vernal pools appear to be clearly included in such uses, as the regulatory process has not yet begun. Therefore, IF&W should accept the photos and videos submitted by the citizen scientists.

“In Maine, the state allows red tape to mask reality,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), noting that MDOT also will not accept any evidence unless produced by its own hired consultants.  “MDOT can dodge but will not be able to escape the legal consequences of vernal pools on the plot it wants to pave over.”

Stephen Miller, Executive Director of Islesboro Islands Trust, added, “This appears to be another classic but familiar case of the fox guarding the henhouse as MDOT tries to avoid inconvenient environmental issues to expedite permitting for their intended Sears Island development.”

Significantly, this year Maine’s Legislature, at the urging of Governor Janey Mills, stripped away the legal protection for sand dunes on Sears Island but left intact the legal protections for vernal pools.

In the 1990s, similar environmental violations thwarted Maine’s plans to develop Sears Island into a commercial container port. More recently, it was revealed that MDOT’s permit for the causeway to Sears Island required a culvert to allow uninterrupted flow of Penobscot Bay through it, but that culvert appears to have not been built.

“Like ecological Keystone Kops, MDOT has botched every effort to develop Sears Island,” added Bennett, who was part of EPA’s enforcement action to protect Sears Island in the 1990s.  “Maine’s actions on Sears Island were illegal 30 years ago and remain so today.”

At the same time, Maine has been stubbornly ignoring the availability of an already developed expendable facility at nearby Mack Point, a site which does not carry the heavy environmental baggage attached to Sears Island.


Read the Sears Island Planning Initiative (SIPI) Consensus Agreement of 2007

See rebuff by Maine Inland Fish and Wildlife

Look at legal protection for vernal pools

Revisit tangled eco-history of Sears Island

View causeway missing required culvert

See a photo and video of the egg masses in the vernal pools

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