Successful project permitting sometimes requires environmental mitigation or ecological restoration efforts to offset impacts to wetlands, wildlife or other resources. However, identifying those impacts and selecting appropriate mitigation solutions can be complex. Developers have knowledge and experience in their specific projects, but may not be current on the latest regulatory updates and relevant environmental regulations.

An experienced environmental consultant can help residential and commercial builders, power and gas companies, electric utilities and other developers streamline permitting by providing guidance on all aspects of compensatory mitigation.

Avoid, Minimize, Compensate

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides the following guidance for evaluating impacts and mitigation needs associated with development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also recommend this approach:

  • Avoid impacts. The best way to do this is by identifying potential impacts and workarounds before development begins.
  • Minimize impacts. When environmental impacts can’t be avoided, they should be minimized as much as possible. This might include scheduling construction for a time that avoids sensitive nesting and migration seasons, or identifying the least invasive placement for structures, pipes or electrical lines.
  • Compensate for impacts. Local mitigation banks or turnkey solutions must provide offsets for any impacts that remain.

Environmental professionals — specialists in endangered species, wetlands and cultural resources — can help guide decision-making at each stage of the mitigation process. The most effective teams include a project manager who develops the best path forward, as well as a permitting specialist who can foresee and avoid permitting delays.

With varying environmental regulations across the country, it is important to work with environmental professionals who have local knowledge and experience. Ideally, they will also have existing relationships with agency staff in the local regulatory offices.

Expedite Permitting

Putting together an effective mitigation solution requires discussion with the appropriate regulatory agency, as well as detailed design work and biological analysis. Mitigation professionals must secure a suitable piece of land and identify the right biological and water-based resources to offset the identified impacts. The plan must then be presented in an appropriate format for the relevant agency. Once the mitigation solution has been approved, the mitigation team builds, manages, monitors and maintains it in perpetuity.

For many developers, mitigation and conservation banks provide the most efficient way to offset environmental impacts. A bank is a wetland, stream, or aquatic or other protected habitat resource area that has been established to provide compensation for unavoidable, but permitted, environmental impacts.

Mitigation banks are established by environmental consultants and approved by the regulatory agency prior to commercial development. The environmental consultant then sells credits to developers as credits are required. The use of mitigation credits expedites the permitting process because agencies have already approved the bank, and once credits are purchased, all mitigation responsibilities and obligations are transferred to the bank.

If no mitigation bank is available in the area, or an existing bank doesn’t have enough credit for the project, an environmental consultant can build a turnkey mitigation solution instead. Again, the consultant will work with the regulatory agency to obtain upfront approval and avoid permitting delays.

Mitigation planning is an integral part of a streamlined permitting process. When handled correctly, it can expedite permitting, minimize environmental offsetting requirements and help complete a high-quality development consistent with environmental objectives.

Paul Sherman is a project manager at Burns & McDonnell, where he leads national mitigation bank acquisition and planning efforts. He has more than 20 years of experience with managing complex acquisition, land use entitlement and construction projects. In recent years, Paul has successfully helped preserve and restore thousands of acres of terrestrial and aquatic habitats throughout the United States.