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Written by: Brian Derenick
As the autumn leaves turn before eventually yielding to a long Pennsylvania winter, design plans are well underway for the next construction season. While Mother Nature may appear to be shutting down for the winter, this time of year is as important as any for engineers, designers and developers to remain aware of the seasonal restrictions that exist to protect sensitive environmental resources that may affect their upcoming projects. While these restrictions serve to ensure special precautions are undertaken to safeguard the environment, it is necessary to remember that they may also impede construction design plans and schedules.
State and federal agencies have implemented environmental regulations that include time restrictions on various construction activities including tree clearing, in-stream activities and general earth disturbance in instances where sensitive plant and animal species have been identified through the completion of an environmental impact review using the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program’s (PNHP) Conservation Explorer for conservation planning and the PNDI environmental review. The Conservation Explorer provides conservation information on biological diversity, protected land, streams and other natural resources for planning purposes. The tool also allows the user to screen a project area for potential impacts to threatened, endangered and special species of concern.
When the results of the PNDI review identify a potential impact, the project planners can prepare to coordinate with appropriate federal and state regulatory agencies including the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR), the PA Game Commission (PGC), the PA Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) to identify the need for potential additional field surveys and/or avoidance and minimization strategies to limit impacts to the species or sensitive areas identified.
Borton-Lawson’s team of Environmental Scientists have an in-depth knowledge of the seasonal time restrictions and conservation measures to ensure sensitive environmental resources are not negatively affected by the proposed construction activity. Our staff’s knowledge and experience includes conducting field investigations such as botanical surveys and habitat assessments to identify potential species of concern including rare plants such as bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) and great spurred violet (Viola selkirkii) and animals including the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) and timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).The Environmental staff has also conducted field reviews to identify a wide variety of sensitive communities including talus caves, hemlock palustrine forests and vernal pool complexes.
The Environmental team maintains the appropriate Wild Plant Management Permits from PA DCNR to conduct botanical surveys for threatened and endangered plant species. In addition, several members of the staff have completed PennDOT training to conduct Phase I Bog Turtle Surveys. The Environmental staff also maintains strong relationships with third-party qualified surveyors who possess the appropriate certifications with the regulatory agencies to conduct in-depth field surveys when required.
While habitat assessments may typically be conducted during any time of year, in lieu of significant snow cover, field reviews to determine presence/absence of a sensitive population may only occur during periods when the species is most active during the year or in cases of rare plant species, when it is in bloom. In addition, it is important that survey guidelines established by the regulatory agency for a specific species are adhered to ensure clearance requirements are met. Special requirements may include the frequency and duration of each field visit and the preferred methodology to conduct the survey.
Some important dates to remember before your next project:
Summary of Seasonal Timeframe/Restriction Dates
Phase II surveys (“presence/absence”) (April 15th – June 15th)
Some helpful tips to reduce potential T&E constraints on your next project:
Implement avoidance and minimization strategies within the project design to allow for protection of sensitive species and habitats.