BECQ: ‘Major Siting Permit Guidebook Outlines Permitting Process’

In line with the Administration’s goal of strengthening enforcement of permitting violations, the Division of Coastal Resources Management Acting Director Janice Castro shares that a recently developed guidebook entitled “Know Your CRM Major Siting Permit” fully outlines the permit application and review process.

According to Castro, major sitings are proposed projects meeting defined thresholds, located inside or outside of a coastal area of particular concern (APC), as outlined in NMIAC § 15-10-020, that may directly and significantly affect coastal resources.

“Major sitings include projects that are not within an APC, however, may still impact coastal resources. Such projects may vary greatly in size and scope and could include many activities including mining, home building, hotel and road construction, and infrastructure development,” Castro said.

She notes that the newly developed guide provides a step-by-step framework and additional resources on how to avoid adverse impacts of a project, including selecting a viable site for proposed use, and compiling a complete Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

“Because major siting permit applications are reviewed by the CRM Board Agencies: Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Department of Public Works (DPW), Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA), Historic Preservation Office (HPO), Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC), the Department of Commerce, and the Division of Coastal Resource Management (DCRM), the guide explains why permitting is essential to protect coastal resources, communities, and developments; emphasizes that the CNMI’s coastal zone includes all territorial lands and waters; and encourages investors and developers to engage in early planning and consultation with these CNMI agencies for successful compliance and development,” Castro said.

Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality Acting Administrator Eliceo Cabrera expressed that the first introduction of the scope of the guidebook was held through workshop-style trainings for BECQ staff, the CRM Board, and CNMI environmental consultants.

“The trainings were led by Suzanne Frew and Bill Whitman of the LYON Consulting Group along with Erin Derrington, DCRM’s Permit Manager, and Emily Northrop, Coastal Resources Planner. The trainings were centered on group critical-thinking activities that asked participants to make decisions based on limited information, weigh short-term and long-term benefits, and add creative, environmentally- and socially-beneficial design elements to sample project proposals. The guidebook serves as a great resource that is comprehensive but easy to navigate. With the guidebook, we hope to observe more projects that are more sustainable and environmentally responsible,” Cabrera said.

Castro added that one particular exercise asked each table to hold a mock agency pre-application meeting with a “project proponent” to highlight the questions that each side might ask and show how early consultation can help identify potential obstacles and their solutions before significant investment in money, time, and effort.

“Such scenarios are realistic and important to talk about. These trainings and this guidebook will further help BECQ staff communicate when a major siting permit is needed and what information must be included in an EIA, guide the CRM Board and their technical staff in reviewing the application package, especially in terms of adequate mitigation, and build the capacity of the business community that develops major siting application packages and the supporting EIA to meet agency expectations and requirements,” she said.

Copies of the guidebook will be available upon final adoption of DCRM’s proposed regulation update. The regulations are currently open for public comment in the 2017 Commonwealth Register volume which is available online at cnmilaw.org/cnmiregister.html. For more information, contact DCRM 664-8300.

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