New law aims to speed permiting

"Developers have the option of paying state agencies to speed permitting processes under a Senate bill signed into law recently by Gov. Gary Locke.The bill, sponsored by Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District, allows developers to pay a fee to permitting agencies, including the departments of natural resources, ecology, health, fish and wildlife and the Air Pollution Control Authority. That fee covers the cost of hiring outside consultants to help with the permitting process. The state agencies, not developers, would hire the independent consultants.By helping state agencies pay for consultation for bigger, more complex projects that might require several permits and an Environmental Impact Statement, smaller projects will be permitted more rapidly, Sheldon said. The ability to shift resources to off-set the effects of large, labor-intensive development projects could help state agencies process proposals, said Department of Ecology spokesman Curt Hart. More revenue allows you to do a bit better planning for a project, he said.Kitsap County legislators voted unanimously in favor of the bill.Some people testified that they were concerned the bill would favor companies which could pay more, bumping smaller projects out of their place in line.Vivian Henderson, the governmental affairs director for the Kitsap Association of Realtors, said the intent of the bill is good, but included a warning for small project developers.We urge the Office of Financial Management to carefully develop guidelines to ensure impartiality and we urge the legislature to play an active and ongoing role in monitoring the equity and effectiveness of the program, she said.The law will be reviewed to ensure smaller projects aren't losing their places against big developers who can afford to pay for expediting fees. We want to make sure smaller projects are not losing their ability to be taken care of, Sheldon said. Hart said he didn't think small projects would be bumped by larger ones. All projects are looked at on their merit, he said. I wouldn't necessarily think this would mean small companies wouldn't get the proper environental review because they don't have the money for the fees.By receiving outside help for large, complex projects that require several permits from different state agencies, agency staff will be able to concentrate on simpler projects, Sheldon said.Though the reimbursement bill is a start in relieving permitting backlogs, Henderson said the agencies ultimately need more money. The ideal solution to the backlog of permit applications ... is adequate funding for these agencies so that permitting can be processed without additional costs to the applicant which, of course, is passed on to the customer, she said."

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