Programmatic permitting significantly streamlines the regulatory permitting process compared to the traditional project-by-project approach often used for public agency-wide or regional operations and maintenance (O&M) and capital improvement projects (CIP).
Programmatic permits are issued on a regional basis for activities that are substantially similar in nature, and incorporate specific design requirements and conservation measures up front. Programmatic permits can reduce mitigation costs, cut staff and consultant time, reduce or eliminate resource agency permit reviews, and minimize risk to a project’s schedule and budget.
Programmatic permits can be issued under one set of environmental documents to authorize recurring activities or to authorize construction of multiple CIP projects over a 5-year period. Cost savings include:
- Environmental documentation need only be prepared once for the entire time the permit is valid (5 years), rather than preparing the same set of documents each time for a recurring activity.
- Under a programmatic permit, fees charged by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Regional Water Quality Control Board are significantly less expensive compared to paying on a project-by-project basis.
- When programmatic permits are issued for recurring projects, mitigation is conducted only once, regardless of how many times the activity is conducted during the 5-year period that the permit is valid. Mitigation costs vary significantly depending on the type of mitigation required and the location. Mitigation consolidation for multiple O&M activities or CIP projects is typically more cost effective since the mitigation efforts and mitigation lands can be expanded to include additional mitigation acreage.
Time savings through schedule assurance
Traditionally, mandatory review timeframes associated with project-by-project issuance of the 401, 404, and 1602 permits are extended due to a lack of resource agency staff, a need for additional information, or a need for additional consultation with outside agencies.
The average project requires 6 to 12 months to obtain all agency permits. Delays in the process can pose a significant problem for individual maintenance activities that are critical for proper facility function, but do not yet meet the definition of an emergency under the resource agency regulations.
Use of a programmatic permit for maintenance activities, or putting permits in place for CIP projects streamlines the process and allows maintenance and construction of necessary improvements to be conducted as needed.
Another potential scheduling problem when obtaining permits on a project-by-project basis is identifying and purchasing mitigation that meets resource agencies’ needs prior to work in waters. If mitigation is unavailable, expensive, or unresolved, work may be postponed indefinitely until a solution is found.
Dudek staff have been involved in projects that were postponed for anywhere from 60 days to several years due to a lack of available or affordable mitigation acceptable to all agencies. By the time an acceptable mitigation plan is secured, the rainy season, nesting bird season, or avoidance windows associated with special-status species may be in effect, resulting in additional delays or increased costs. With a programmatic permit, mitigation is secured up front, avoiding unplanned delays and allowing maintenance or CIP work to be scheduled around other constraints.
Shelah Riggs is a project manager and regulatory specialist with 13 years’ experience preparing regulatory documents compliant with CEQA, NEPA, CWA, ESA, and CCA. For more information on programmatic permitting, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.