The Permitting Process – Part 2

The Saint ReportAggregates/Mining, Planning and Zoning, Saint Consulting Links, saintblog, Thought Leadership

Chris-Hopkins2Christopher Hopkins, Vice President of Saint Consulting is referenced in the article below featured in Pit & Quarry by Carol Wasson on May 7, 2015.  

This two-part series educates producers on avoiding pitfalls and adopting best practices in pursuit of obtaining a permit. Read “The permitting process: Part 1? here.

Part one of “The Permitting Process” detailed ways aggregate producers could avoid problems while working toward acquiring an operating permit. Part two examines best practices, and begins with the importance of community education and outreach programs.

Education and outreach must be ongoing. The industry has long said it must do a better job to educate the public as to the values and contributions of the aggregate and mining industry. This is what helps to build trust and to ease the misconceptions and fears that the public may have, particularly during the permitting process.

Few, other than those who work in the industry, truly understand it. Producers who continually implement education programs are in the minority. A quick Internet search regarding quarry education will turn up those producers who are offering tours to school groups and other organizations, teachers’ study guides, educational materials for children, and links to a variety of resources on their websites.

A particularly innovative industry site for children comes from the United Kingdom and can be found here. It is unique and interactive, and deserves to be shared with school groups.

As to community outreach, some top producers are well known for their “Quarry Days” events, which are well attended year after year. Other programs include adopt-a-school programs; scholarships; material donations; employee community service programs; and more.

“The most important thing,” says Christopher Hopkins of The Saint Consulting Group, “is never to offer outreach and education when you need something, and turn it off when you don’t. It must be ongoing.”

Community outreach can even be designed into the permitting process negotiations. Consider the following: A recent proposed quarry operation is working with the town council to allow the town to divert underground water percolating from the proposed quarry operation to the town’s wastewater treatment plant – creating a new source of usable water for the town.

The town had been in discussions with the quarry over the plan for about three years, and although the quarry operations are not expected to start for at least a few more years, the town’s mayor wanted to ensure that the community had another sustainable source of water for future use. Under the plan, the town would be able to build a pumping facility and pipeline to transfer the water, which would be diverted to the treatment plant at no cost to the town.

Mutual understanding

Local government outreach sessions conducted by the Washington State Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance (ORA) led to a report defining several top themes to improve the permitting process. One of their top themes is building a mutual understanding by bringing agencies, the industry, elected officials and the public together to educate all parties on the “how” and “why” of the permitting process and to determine how to be more effective during permit review.

The report details several approaches to stimulate ongoing process improvements:

1. Provide a forum or technical seminar for industries and permitting departments to better understand each other’s requirements and objectives. A seminar, when combined with opportunities to talk informally, allows participants to put faces to names and fosters working relationships that ease permit coordination later on.

Explaining why things work the way they do can dissolve misconceptions that cloud the permit process.

2. Similarly, the report also suggests providing training or discussion forums for educating staff and local citizens on how permitting works, what reviewers consider, how to make influential comments to reviewers, and varying agency roles in the process. This approach prepares citizens for the process ahead, and adds a human dimension to an otherwise obscure process.

3. Emphasize the importance of education for staff and an understanding of the entire regulatory picture. Agency directors, sometimes with the support from elected leaders, provide inter-departmental and inter-agency staff groups with an opportunity and direction to learn from each other about each program’s goals, respective procedures, and why a department or program operates as it does.

4. Elected leaders should be encouraged to attend these sessions to gain an understanding of the range of issues and priorities that enter into permit processing discussions. This helps officials to better respond to constituents and can inform their thinking about how to plan and budget for appropriate levels of service in the various departments.

5. Engage all reviewers, stakeholders, and concerned citizens early in the process so that critical design requirements and constraints can be identified and resolved without surprise and rework late in the process. Many jurisdictions, particularly those in urban settings, encourage applicants to talk with neighbors before formal submittal. Some require mandatory neighborhood meetings, where applicants can learn about site history, potential areas of concern and appeals, and what changes to the project might deflect a controversial issue.

Marketing campaign

Successful permitting involves good sales and marketing skills. Just as in any effective marketing and PR campaign, the project must be anchored upon an attractive theme that makes the project easier for people to accept. The theme may involve much-needed jobs or an environmental spin such as minimizing greenhouse gas emissions via the elimination of heavy truck traffic.

Benchmark Resources stresses the latter issues and all other issues that educate the public as to why a nearby source of aggregate is beneficial to them. Operations may wish to conduct research on what themes have been successful for other producers, and tailor them to their specific needs.

The Saint Consulting Group Founder and CEO P. Michael Saint puts it this way: “To win a land-use battle, one must consider the project to be like a candidate and then create and implement a winning campaign strategy to ‘elect’ that project. Polling, petitioning, grassroots organizing, meetings, lawn signs, supporter databases, social media, telephone town halls, video petitions and other political campaign tools should be used to identify, educate, organize and harness the political power of real voters who want the project built.”

Saint and two of his colleagues, Robert Flavell and Patrick Fox, have written “NIMBY Wars: The Politics of Land Use.” The book teaches how to create a campaign plan, craft a message, identify and connect with supportive residents, secure press coverage, and neutralize attacks.

Reclamation plan

According to Christopher Hopkins of The Saint Consulting Group, a comprehensive and properly targeted reclamation plan is essential in gaining community support and overcoming opposition when pursuing a quarry permit. City and county planners agree that a solid plan is often the key in gaining approval.

Hopkins says that more than a decade ago, reclamation plans often suggested a landfill be created when material reserves were exhausted. However, today’s climate indicates the latter as one of the most unwanted alternatives. Instead, community planners prefer natural habitats, parks, lakes, trails and golf courses being created atop filled quarries.

Typically, the life span of the quarry dictates just how specific the reclamation plan must be. A shorter operational timeframe of 10 to 20 years requires more plan specificity. Proposed quarry permits with 40 or more years of reserves obviously require some amount of fluidity in reclamation planning as officials often want more flexibility when forecasting the needs of communities and municipalities so far into the future.

“For a community to accept a reclamation plan, trust is essential,” Hopkins says. He further stresses that if a company does not have a good reputation, especially for following through on promises, much more scrutiny is focused on all facets of a permitting application.

“The best way to avoid plans being viewed over-critically is for a company to maintain its reputation as a good neighbor, while remaining actively involved in its communities,” says Hopkins, who adds that officials also pay considerable attention to the financial stability of the applicant. “To ease local concerns, communities often require that bonds be posted to cover the anticipated cost of reclamation,” he says.

A recent example of a successful yet complex reclamation plan involves a California coastal-based operation that worked closely with consultant Benchmark Resources to prepare its environmental impact report and its final mining and reclamation plan.

Benchmark provided the expertise to navigate through the layers of oversight within the county planning and coastal commissions, while avoiding any costly appeals. The plan included the creation of a large conservation easement.

Mined areas are reclaimed as a natural habitat, which features sophisticated ponds for endangered red-legged frogs; protections for nesting raptors and migratory birds; and a grading, vegetation and water management plan for additional habitat ponds. The operation created an annuity to pay for the care of the easement over time. In the end, the fully reclaimed site will serve as a very large water reservoir.

Permitting is a long-term process and should be treated as such, with proper planning, and the diligence to uncover the obstacles and create a solution-oriented perspective. Operators may be confident that they can effectively handle every part of the process in-house; however, more often than not, they will save both time and money by reaching out to mine permitting experts.


Take note

In terms of reclamation, community planners prefer natural habitats, parks, lakes, trails and golf courses being created atop filled quarries.


This article is courtesy of Telsmith Inc., and it may be downloaded in full at www.telsmith.com. Author Carol Wasson is a veteran freelance writer for the aggregates and construction equipment industries.