A Winning Formula for Permitting
Some time ago, I was talking with an industry acquaintance about his company’s land-use entitlement efforts. He told me that the mining plans his company turns in with its requests are absolutely perfect from an engineering standpoint. However, he added that the company often had been turned down in its requests to permit additional reserves. When I asked why this was the case, he said the answer was simple: the company management just didn’t understand that – in the final analysis – the decision to either approve or deny a producer’s request to permit additional reserves is always a political decision. He said his company prides itself on being an industry technological leader and just assumes that this carries a great deal of weight with local decision makers. He added that his company practically ignores local politics. It is no wonder it hasn’t had any reserves permitted!
It simply cannot be stressed enough that the decision to approve any controversial land-use application at the local level will almost always come down to a political decision. A review of all the steps that have been suggested as one goes through the entitlement process will reflect that most of the suggestions are politically based. Each time one of the steps is followed, you may incrementally increase your overall chances for success. But unfortunately, following every step does not ensure a favorable vote on permit requests. The reality is that there are simply certain situations that will be so politically charged that it will be impossible to obtain a favorable vote to permit additional reserves. But that doesn’t mean a producer shouldn’t try.
As stated earlier, a producer knows years in advance that – at some point in the future – its reserves will be depleted and it will need to obtain approval to permit additional reserves if it is to continue in business. Armed with that knowledge, a smart producer should develop a strategic plan to obtain the necessary approval from the local decision makers. The first steps in the plan should be to review the appearance of your existing operations and to make sure you have a good relationship with your neighbors. If no one from the company is active in the community or in local charitable organizations, it should become a priority. As stated earlier, most decision makers who vote on a request to permit additional reserves are generally active in community organizations. This provides a producer with an ideal opportunity to become active in the same organizations and to get to know the decision makers. Volunteer to work on a committee with them. It is almost inexcusable for a producer who knows years in advance that it will need a permit to arrive at a public hearing and not personally know any of the individuals who will vote on the request.
In this day and age of heightened environmental awareness and more and more NIMBY-minded communities, it is still very possible for aggregate producers to be successful in permitting additional reserves. To do so, however, you have to work at it and plan years in advance – just as you do for any other aspect of your business.
Prior to his retirement in 2000, Gene Block served as vice president of legislative affairs for Vulcan Materials Co.’s Western Division where he helped to permit more than 300 million tons of reserves.
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