Under a directive from Gov. Sean Parnell, Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources is talking about how to make its permitting processes more efficient.
Ed Fogels, from the department, said the state is trying to encourage natural resource development without taking away any environmental or other protections. The department doesn’t want to cut corners, Fogels said.
The effort is in recognition of how important resource development is to the state’s economy, Fogels said.
“We’re looking at pretty much all of our permitting in DNR,” Fogels said.
That includes both small projects, like rights-of-way on state land, and larger ones, like oil and gas development. The department is also looking at how the state coordinates with federal permits and legal challenges, and trying to reduce a backlog of permits.
Thursday night, the department will host a meeting at the Donald E. Gilman River Center on Funny River Road to talk about permitting issues and how the public might like to see things change. Fogels said they want to hear people’s experiences with state permits, both good and bad.
“We’re not proposing any specific changes,” Fogels said.
The meeting is one of several held throughout the state this fall. After the meetings end, the department will look internally at what might be done.
Fogel said that some of the changes could happen within the department, just by altering their processes, and other might require regulatory and statuatory changes. One batch of changes could be presented to the Legislature this January, while other solutions might take longer to be developed, Fogel said.
A major goal is to reduce the department’s backlog. Fogel said there are about 2,500 permits in waiting. That’s partially because of an increase in permits being filed in recent years, and a decrease in the staff to process them. There’s no required timeline for a decision on those.
Last year, the Legislature alloted extra funding to help hire staff to go through the permits. That alone won’t reduce the waiting permits.
“We have to figure out a way to work smarter,” Fogel said.
The department also wants to see how it can help with federal permitting challenges. Fogel said that the state has worked to tighten coordination between state agencies in the past several years. Now it’s looking at how it can be more in-tune with the feds, which is where large-project delays often come from. Better communication between state and federal bodies could help the state help those applying for permits take care of any problems before the delay a project significantly.
“We’re still too early in this process to identify specific changes,” he said.
Thursday’s meeting will also be streamed in a webinar so that people can participate even if they can’t make it to the meeting.
“We’ll do what it takes to get the input,” Fogels said.
The meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday at the Gilman River Center.
Information on the webinar, and the permitting initiative, is available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/priorities/permitting_reform.html.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.