December 5, 2017
Over the years, I’ve often talked about the importance of having a social license to operate. Essentially, operators need to obtain and maintain goodwill from the communities in which they operate to ensure their ability to get greenfield permits and expand operations as needed.
For much of the last decade, an operator’s ability to get this permission seemed to be a little easier. Why? During the great recession, many local bodies looked more favorably at businesses that added jobs as well as tax dollars to their bottom line. While permits were by no means easy to obtain, it seemed like timelines had shortened a bit, and community opposition was a little less fierce. No more.
Consider these examples from just the last couple of weeks.
In Indiana, the Tippecanoe County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-2 against Rogers Group’s request for a proposed 524-acre operation there. According to the Journal & Courier, approximately 70 people wrote letters in support or against the project. A community group, the Americus Area Community Coalition, gathered signatures of more than 1,400 people on a petition in opposition of the project. Rogers Group has been working on this project for about seven years, and has been given a mere 30 days to appeal.
In Greensboro, N.C., Gilford County commissioners voted 8-0 against Lehigh Hanson’s request to rezone 352 acres of land and facilitate its intended $30 million investment there. The News & Record reports that the community opposition centered on traffic, well water, and “quality of life for nearby residents.” The operator had proposed nearly two dozen new conditions ranging from groundwater monitoring to road upgrades to ease the concerns of community members, but the project was still unanimously rejected.
In Maine, despite a 2013 local ordinance that “was understood to have been written specifically to allow (Harold MacQuinn Inc.) to continue,” the Appeals Board upheld the local Planning Board’s decision that the operator could not obtain a permit to operate in the village of Hall Quarry. According to the Mount Desert Islander, the operator applied for a license after the village passed the 2013 ordinance. To be grandfathered, it had to have been in continuous operation without a break of more than 12 months since 2009. Although originally believed to have been grandfathered, the planning board determined that it had been dormant for too long since the ordinance was passed.
As local planning bodies return to emotion-based decision making, operators must pull their focus back to facts and rational thought if they are to obtain that all-important social license.