DID YOU KNOW?
by Shawna Anderson
PERSEVERING WITH PERMITS
We are always excited when the River Park receives a new grant to construct a public access project and we often announce those “wins” in this newsletter. Then, as time goes by, some of our park supporters wonder, “what ever happened?” or “when is that trail going to be built anyway?” Well, believe it or not, one entire staff person (and usually more than one) is devoted to just getting through the process to turn grant dollars into a piece of paper that allows us to actually put a shovel in the ground. This process can take anywhere from several months to several years, depending on the project size and complexity. Just when everyone grows weary from waiting so long – things begin to finally happen!
Grants usually cover both the design and construction phases of a project. Part of the design process involves determining the best place for a trail or bridge crossing based on many factors, one being environmental constraints. The River Park tries to avoid impacting natural resources wherever possible but because our Park is within a river valley, often there are impacts associated with even a dirt trail. Although part of our mission is to preserve and protect natural habitat and resources, the River Park is not excused from a myriad of environmental regulations.
Once a preliminary project alignment is mapped out, there are many steps before something can be constructed. Often the rules and regulations sound like alphabet soup – CEQA, NEPA, SDP, ESA, MSCP, 1601, 404, 401, etc! And each permit involves a series of steps and procedures that must be followed, usually in a particular order. Each permit also involves relationships with individual local, state, or federal agencies and following their processing guidelines. Several specialized reports are always required including bird surveys, plant surveys, archaeology studies, geotechnical reports, and biological studies. Often, surveys have to be done during certain times of the year and over several site visits. Therefore, these studies can take lots of time. Often not just one project location or route is studied – often several alternatives must be evaluated in detail to justify the one that is preferred. We always need help from specialists, so knowledge of experts in the field is important. Reports are submitted and resubmitted and critiqued by other experts and our project is just one of many being processed through the same hard-working regulators, so stand in line! Nagging sometimes helps. Site visits with agency staff are always helpful and necessary but time consuming to set up and often lead to more questions and documentation. That trail route that you worked so hard to align just right is now being questioned and scrutinized and sometimes tweaked this way and that way. What starts out as slowly trudging through dense brush to chart a course builds to a frantic pace of revisions and iterations and phone calls, emails, faxes and meetings before reaching the final step of an approved construction plan.
And, if we’ve done our job right, that trail alignment that we studied and restudied will prevail in the end and be sanctioned to build. Whew! On to the next…
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