Ensuring that biological permit requirements are appropriately matched to conditions at a site is a critical component of any development project. Through no fault of their own, regulatory agencies often overstate the need for biological studies or mitigation with the assumption that a site has the potential to host sensitive habitats or protected species. This often happens when consultants have not adequately conveyed crucial information about a site and can lead to unnecessary permitting requirements, project delays, and increased costs. Engaging regulators early in the planning process and maintaining open lines of discussion between project planners, regulators, and consultants is the best way to avoid unnecessary costs and to ensure that project permits are obtained in a timely manner. By following a simple formula—discover, distribute, discuss—many of the typical misunderstandings between project planners, regulators, and consultants can be avoided.
In our work with Pristine Sun, we joined a project that had an extensive list of endangered species that regulators wanted to be considered during the project planning and environmental review. Conditions on the ground did not seem to support such an exhaustive list of species, so Pristine Sun brought in WRA to provide a second opinion and meet with agencies to negotiate a more appropriate list of species to consider given conditions at the site. At this point, Pristine Sun was facing a slew of permitting and mitigation requirements that would have likely ended the solar installation due to prohibitive costs. One of the main concerns about the site was its potential to contain habitat for California tiger salamander (CTS), a federally protected species. If it was determined that the site contained potentially suitable habitat for CTS, the costs associated with the mitigation would have ended the project. That’s where WRA came in.
Our experience with CTS allowed us to conduct a skilled review of the list of conditions provided by the County and the potential for the site to contain suitable habitat. A remote assessment of historical aerial photos with attention to the biological resources on the site suggested that suitable habitat was not present and that CTS surveys—part of the County’s list of conditions—were not needed.
After notifying Pristine Sun that there was a strong case to be made for reducing the list of conditions provided by the County, we suggested submitting a Letter of Addendum and accompanying documentation to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The client took our advice and approached CDFW with the new information. They provided the Letter of Addendum and the documentation provided by WRA and proposed revisions to the County’s list of conditions based on WRA’s analysis of the biological constraints on the property.
The CDFW agreed with WRA’s analysis and began discussing ways to adjust the biological permit requirements to better match conditions on the ground. The CDFW reduced the list of conditions associated with the project, and Pristine Sun was able to avoid costly—and unnecessary—biological surveys and mitigation requirements.
Having extra requirements in a permitting project is an expensive proposition. In the case of Pristine Sun, the extra surveys for CTS would have added $15,000 to the project. In addition to the additional dollar costs, the CTS surveys would have resulted in significant delays to the project given that the surveys must be conducted during the breeding season (spring) and in years of average or greater rainfall levels. By employing WRA for a second opinion and engaging the regulators in open discussion about the site, Pristine Sun was able to avoid the extra costs and delays and move forward with their project.