Permit processing time for Meteorological Testing (MET) facilities can be streamlined when engineering parameters and environmental permitting considerations are managed concurrently and collaboratively.
When pursuing MET facility construction on private land in California, permit issuance to construct by the lead agency is subject to CEQA requirements. A categorical exemption is often used by a lead agency to meet CEQA requirements. To use a CEQA exemption by a lead agency the project must meet the following requirements:
(1) There is no reasonable possibility that the activity will have a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances
(2) The project would not result in damage to scenic resources
(3) The project would not result in a substantial adverse change in the significance of historical resources and
(4) A cumulative impact would not result when the impact of successive projects of the same type in the same place over time is significant.
A fast-track permitting process requires a well-coordinated permitting effort between the MET engineers, environmental permitting team and lead agency. Key aspects for developing a fast-track MET campaign include the following:
- Environmental Resources Present Onsite – The first step is to identify the potential environmental resources present onsite that would likely be affected from the construction of MET facilities. MET facilities can typically be constructed in such a manner that minimal ground disturbance is required. Likely resources to be impacted from MET facility construction and operation include biological and archeological resources.
- Developing MET Siting Locations – Upon identifying the environmental resources onsite, aerial imagery in combination with readily available GIS data (i.e. general vegetation communities, water features) should be reviewed with the project MET engineers to determine potential locations that would ensure there is no reasonable possibility that the construction of MET facilities will have a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances. At this stage the MET engineers should present desired site locations to the environmental permitting team, and the environmental team should identify areas that are preferred from an environmental perspective with consideration given to access and environmental resources.
- Environmental Surveys – Following completion of identifying several potential sites that would be suitable from an engineering and environmental perspective, environmental surveys should be completed. These surveys are typically limited to a one-day site reconnaissance completed in areas where MET facilities would be constructed and along the associated access roads. It is also recommended that both a records search and a site visit by an archeologist is completed at this time to determine whether resources are present within the proposed work areas and if alternative access points or construction techniques can be utilized to avoid resources that may have been identified onsite.
- Finalize MET Locations. At this stage in the process the MET engineers in combination with the environmental permitting team should finalize the MET facility locations that will be submitted to the lead agency for permitting. Each site being considered should be reviewed to determine whether environmental resources could be impacted and whether alternative sites can be utilized or alternative construction techniques employed. This step is essential for the fast-track permitting process as the sites selected and proposed construction techniques will ultimately determine the environmental review requirements.
- Submit Permit Application. Upon completing site selection, the environmental review is finalized to determine whether the MET facilities can be processed via a categorical exemption. The permit application should include a comprehensive project description that provides the construction techniques that have been developed by the project team and the findings of the site reconnaissance.
In summary, identifying construction techniques and development of a siting program that minimizes impacts to environmental resources, ensures a fast-track permitting process. The key is for the environmental team to collaborate concurrently with the engineering and construction team throughout the permitting process to ensure both construction methods and a siting program are developed that would ensure fast-track permitting by the lead agency.