A Winning Formula for Permitting
Land-use entitlements continue to be challenging, but these suggestions can tilt the odds in your favor.
by Gene Block
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2001 as a series of articles, however the suggestions outlined in the article remain vital in today’s permitting environment.
As everyone connected with the aggregates industry knows, you can locate the best deposit imaginable, but if you can’t obtain the necessary land-use entitlements or permits to operate, the property will never be mined. Obtaining entitlements and permits depends on many factors. These factors include the location of the deposit in relation to the surrounding land uses, the existing zoning regulations in the governmental jurisdiction where the deposit is located, and probably the most important of all, the politics of the local community and your company’s reputation within the community.
Having been involved in permitting numerous deposits for more than three and a half decades in a number of different localities in several states, I’ve learned that there is no magic formula to ensure success in the permitting area. In the final analysis, you can prepare a state-of-the-art mining and reclamation plan for a project. Required environmental reports can conclude that your proposal will not harm the environment. Yet the final decision as to whether you receive the necessary approvals from local decision makers always comes down to one factor – local politics.
Stated another way, it is always a political decision whether to approve your request and to allow an expansion of an existing operation or to permit a new greenfield site. I do believe, however, that there are a number of things a producer can do to improve the odds of receiving the necessary approvals to mine a deposit. These steps begin before a written application is even submitted.
The pre-application phase
Producers know years in advance that sooner or later they will need to get new acreage permitted at their existing location or move to and permit a greenfield site if they want to continue in business after their existing reserves are depleted. The earlier a producer begins to focus on the entitlement process, the better the chances are of receiving a favorable vote in permitting new reserves. The following steps are recommended in the pre-application phase.
- Option the reserves. In negotiating the acquisition of necessary land for additional reserves, I believe you are always better served by obtaining an option on the property rather than an outright purchase. This can be especially important if the landowner is a prominent or well-connected member of the community where the decision to approve your application will be made. If you purchase the property outright, the seller has no incentive to help you obtain the necessary approvals you need once he receives his money. If, however, you only hold an option to obtain the necessary entitlements, the landowner has an incentive to help you with the local decision makers. If you don’t receive the necessary entitlements, he doesn’t sell the property.
- Remember, appearances count. Once you submit your application to permit new reserves, the staff of the local government agency, elected and appointed officials, your prospective new neighbors, and members of the community will begin to observe and evaluate the outward appearance of your existing operations like they never have in the past. You probably have been coming and going to your site for years, and it is very likely that you don’t see your site through the eyes of impartial, or worse, hostile, observers. I believe it is money well spent to hire a landscape architect or a consultant to give you a critical report on the appearance of your site along with suggestions on how to improve the overall view as seen by members of the pubic from adjacent right-of-ways. A little paint, some new landscaping, and perhaps a new or reconditioned entrance sign can go a long way toward ensuring that your existing facility is viewed in a positive light by the community.
- Target charitable contributions. Most businesses make charitable contributions. Since no business has unlimited resources, we all must make decisions as to which groups we will contribute and which appeals we will turn down. Everything else being equal, I believe that producers with upcoming permit requests would be well advised to make greater contributions in the communities where additional reserves will be sought rather than in communities where no entitlements will be needed for the foreseeable future. People in the advertising industry call this “getting the most bang for your buck.”
The importance of targeted charitable contributions was brought home to me a few years back. A predecessor company was involved in a particularly difficult permitting process on a greenfield site. The predecessor company was a publicly held company whose stock was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s largest stockholder was a charitable foundation. Several years prior to seeking the new entitlements for the greenfield site, the foundation made a sizeable contribution to a hospital that was planning a major expansion in the community where the permit was being sought. Throughout the process, opponents tried to paint us as a large company that only took, but never gave anything back to the community.
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