Reducing Risks When Applying for Environmental Permits

By Myla Ablog, WRA Aquatic Resources Permitting Specialist

Do you have a complex project? Are you concerned about navigating through the environmental permitting process? Would you like to reduce risks to your project schedule? One potential way to address these concerns is to attend a pre-application Interagency Meeting. Depending on the region in which your project is located, different regulatory agencies host pre-application Interagency Meetings. This article concentrates on the process as hosted by the San Francisco District (SPN) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Once a month, SPN hosts pre-application Interagency Meetings. They are held during the business day and typically last one hour. Applicants request to be added to the agenda two weeks prior to the meeting by providing brief project information to the host agency.

Pre-application meetings can be a helpful way to facilitate a discussion about any project details, which should help prevent project changes in the future.

Representatives of regulatory agencies that have an interest in a particular project attend each applicant’s project presentation. An applicant’s project presentation should be limited to 25-30 minutes to allow time for discussion and questions from the agencies. In addition to USACE, agencies that typically attend Interagency Meetings include Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB), and California Coastal Commission (CCC).

Applicants should prepare a presentation with project information that includes project background and design. It should also include information on any project alternatives and potential controversies. Other pertinent information could include environmental setting aspects such as presence of wetlands or waters, special-status species, and/or cultural resources.

During the discussion, the applicant can receive feedback on project design and project alternatives. Agencies can also provide feedback on permitting pathways. An interagency meeting may be one of the few times during a permitting process that an applicant can receive feedback from several agencies at once while they are all sitting at the table (or sharing a video conference screen). The feedback provided can inform the level of detail needed in permit applications and may reduce the extent of comments received after applications are submitted.

While not a guarantee, receiving feedback from agencies early in the permitting process could potentially reduce risks to a project’s cost, scope, and schedule. For example, an applicant may receive feedback on their project design that could save costs or prevent modifications further down the entitlement process thus also saving time. With several agencies at the table at once, comments on the scope of project alternatives could aid in future project planning. An applicant may find through feedback on proper mitigation planning, delays to a project schedule could be avoided.  

Meeting in advance of a project implementation can help prevent delays to project work and keep things transparent for all involved agencies and clients.

If you have a complex project that involves multiple regulatory agencies, attending a pre-application Interagency Meeting should be considered. It is an opportunity to get feedback on your project and permit pathway that could make the process smoother and more efficient. If there is an opportunity to get all the agencies at the table for your project, applicants should consider taking advantage of that opportunity. WRA’s regulatory permitting specialists are here to answer any questions you have about the process and assist in getting your pre-application meeting scheduled.
Contact WRA’s Permitting Specialist Myla Ablog with questions about the pre-application process at myla.ablog@wra-ca.com.