Pennsylvania is an area of current interest to our energy clients. Production, gathering, and transfer are all activities that impact large, often contiguous, tracts of land. A typical project can be permitted several ways, but nearly all of them will require some amount of replacement mitigation for impacts to streams, creeks, and wetlands.
Permitting for these projects is complex. When combined with limited regulatory review resources, approval times suffer. Both regulators and development companies want to do the right thing, but stream mitigation in Pennsylvania is often a tedious process that requires a sponsor proposal, commenting periods, and revisions. Fortunately, solutions are coming to bear that will enable customers to avoid this lengthy process.
In an effort to clarify those options, RES has put together some Frequently Asked Questions to cover the basics. Of course your particular situation will be unique, so please contact RES’ Michael Comstock who would be happy to talk to you about individual crossings and compensatory mitigation in all of its forms.
When do I know if my project schedule will require mitigation?
Typically, a desktop GIS study using National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) or National Hydrological Data (NHD) can be used for planning purposes to estimate and reduce impact acreages. The Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA) is a great source for additional data layers that can help you determine the type and quality of wetland or stream you might be crossing. There are also various shape files that discuss habitats of threatened species. Finally, a field-truth delineation of impact is often required and is an important step in the process. If you don’t have these resources at your fingertips, please contact RES about complimentary project insight studies.
Once I know acreages, how do I determine mitigation requirements?
Mitigation requirements fall into two categories: acreage replacement ratios and functional models. An acreage replacement ratio is a method whereby the acreage of impact is replaced on an equal or greater basis. A functional model attempts to identify and quantify the exact aquatic function lost through the development and replace it with something functionally equivalent. Since no two acreages are the same, this is the preferred method of many agencies. 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 might affect your projects.
Is the PADEP in charge of this process?
The PADEP is the permitting agency most integrally involved with permitting in Pennsylvania, but not the only agency involved. Pennsylvania contains three districts of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which are also involved in the review of many Category III PASPGP-4 permits and all individual permits. Each agency has different and unique guidance, which it must adhere to, and a successful restoration will incorporate the needs of all agencies involved. United States Fish and Wildlife, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service may also be involved.
How do I mitigate a stream or wetland crossing?
Mitigation isn’t a complex process, but sometimes is can seem that way. For “permittee-responsible” mitigation, the slowest and most difficult part of the process is figuring out what to propose to regulators as adequate compensation for the damage. In many states that surround Pennsylvania an active mitigation banking environment exists from which project managers can elect to purchase pre-approved restoration credit to compensate for impacts. A few restoration companies, including RES, have properties in the process of approval for restoration credits within Pennsylvania. This will shorten the permitting process substantially. Please contact us for more information about these properties and their service areas. In the meantime, however, Pennsylvania has a few options until those restoration properties are approved that can meet your projects needs. The most common process is customized to each permit and requires that the developer make a proposal for on-site or off-site “permittee-responsible” mitigation. In some select cases a permittee can pay into the state’s in-lieu-fee fund. Call an experienced mitigation supplier or an environmental consultant to find out which is right for your project. RES would be happy to discuss the entire suite of options available to you along with the timing constraints of each. Please contact Michael Comstock.
How will the new PASPGP-4 change the process?
The new permitting process hasn’t changed the mitigation 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 mitigation to meet the requirements?
The rule of thumb when designing custom mitigation is that you should start the process with a mitigation 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 Michael Comstock by email or telephone at (412) 395-0664.