Pennsylvania is an area of ongoing interest to our energy clients. Production, gathering, and transport are all activities that may impact large, often contiguous, tracts of land. A typical project can be permitted several ways, but nearly all projects require some amount of replacement offsets for unavoidable impacts to streams, creeks, wetlands and habitats.
The permitting process is often complex to navigate. When combined with limited regulatory review resources, project approval times can suffer. Fortunately, solutions are now available that will enable project developers to avoid this lengthy process.
RES has put together some Frequently Asked Questions to cover the basics of these solutions. Since your particular situation will be unique, please contact RES’ Will Donaldson, who would be happy to talk to you about individual watercrossings and appropriate compensatory mitigation in all forms.
How do I know if my project will require mitigation?
Typically, a desktop study using Geographic Information Systems analysis can be used for planning purposes to estimate project impact acreages. Data layers reviewed include wetlands inventories, streams and rivers, and habitats of threatened species. A field-based, ground-truth impact delineation is always required and is an important step in the regulatory permitting process. Please contact RES to learn about project impact studies.
How do I determine offset requirements?
Offset requirements fall into two categories: acreage replacement ratios and functional model approach. An acreage replacement ratio is a method whereby the acreage of impact is replaced on an equal or greater basis. A functional model approach attempts to identify and quantify the exact aquatic function lost through the development and replace it with something functionally equivalent. Acreage replacement ratios are common practice and in use today. In Pennsylvania, a new functional model is being tested by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) for use with both wetland and stream replacements. RES has collaborated with the authors of the new methodology and can provide insight about how this regulatory change might affect your projects.
Is the PADEP in charge of permitting my project?
The PADEP is the permitting agency most integrally involved with permitting in Pennsylvania, but not the only agency involved. Pennsylvania contains three United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) districts, which are also involved in the review of many Category III PASPGP-4 permits and all Individual Permits. Each agency has different and unique requirements and guidance, which it must adhere to, and a successful restoration will incorporate the needs of all agencies involved. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service may also be involved.
Does PASPGP-4 change the process?
The new permitting process hasn’t changed the process too much, but there are some things project managers should be aware of. Firstly, the PASPGP-4 has maximum project size limitations, as did previous variants of the permit. The new permit is unique, however, in that the way the size of projects is measured has changed slightly. Now the linear feet of stream impact is determined based on all area impacted through the construction of the crossing rather than the greater of the width or length of the stream itself. The effect of this is that the quantity of crossing impacts are sometimes greater, which can alter the type of permit required.
Secondly, a permit is needed for each “single and complete project,” however the provided definition for a single and complete project leaves room for interpretation. Subsequent guidance has required that cumulative impacts for a linear projects made up of more than one “single and complete project” be disclosed in their entirety to determine eligibility for the PASPGP-4.
The short answer is that both of these things, if altered, could change how a project is measured and, as a result, the scope of compensatory mitigation required.
How much time do I need to obtain required offsets for my permit?
The rule of thumb when preparing for a permit application is to start the process with a mitigation solution provider between 180 and 365 days in advance of your current expected time of need. As approved third-party mitigation resources become available, you can expect these times to shrink considerably.
We at RES hope that this information helps you with your next project.
If we can answer additional questions or help you in anyway, please contact Will Donaldson at 504-615-6541.