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June 3, 2005

Is your mine ready for an extreme makeover?

  • Community acceptance of the aggregate industry is the key to easier permitting of new mines and maintenance of existing ones.
    Cairncross & Hempelmann

     Bainbridge Rogers
    Bainbridge Rogers

    Existing surface mines and concrete plants are unlikely to win any neighborhood popularity contests. Likely due to our natural fear of change, proposed mines and plants tend to be even less popular.

    Despite lacking in natural appeal, mines and concrete plants are a necessary part of the community and can be designed to be at least compatible with, if not warmly welcomed by, the community.

    Successful strategies to obtain land-use permits for new surface mines and concrete plants — and to maintain permits for existing facilities — may be neighborhood-specific, but the universe of issues is the same.

    First, work proactively with local government to protect mining lands as Mineral Resource Lands under the Growth Management Act. While the Mineral Resource Lands designation does not assure future mining permit approvals, it does aid regulators and the community in understanding the resource's regional value.

    Second, assemble a team of experts to assist in the permitting process. Permitting a new site or protecting permits for an existing facility is a high-value proposition. Creative ideas to build your project's popularity are needed and most often flow from teams engaging one another. Even reality TV producers recognize that a consultant team works best to boost the appeal of a homely contestant — whether it's a house or a human.

    Rather than grooming, food, culture, interior design and fashion, the "mine makeover" team should include engineering, legal, water, traffic and public relations assistance.

    Third, study and develop multiple options to resolve potential issues. It is rarely the obvious wart the team sees and mitigates that becomes the ultimate hurdle in the permitting and popularity process. Ancillary concerns must also be addressed to avoid future misunderstanding or intransigence from a regulator or neighbor who cannot let go of what should be small concerns, blown into larger ones, due to a lack of good data or community-friendly explanations.

    Fourth, your team's early exploration efforts can address not only the value of the potential resource, but also create useful information for future baseline environmental data.

    Fifth, while it is important to challenge costly demands for unnecessary mitigation from regulators, also attempt to embrace the advice received from permitting agencies. The path of least resistance to approval is often paved with the solid advice of your team, interlaced with advice from regulators.

    Sixth, consider the long term. A mine or concrete plant will probably be in place for decades. Therefore, applicable permit conditions and agreements with neighbors should be structured to work well for decades.

    Seventh, recognize that permitting is complex and multi-leveled, and schedule time to obtain all necessary permits. At least a dozen approvals from multiple agencies will be required and over 50 permits are possible. Set time lines and schedules and ensure your project manager regularly reminds team members of their obligation to meet those schedules.

    Eighth, existing and newly opened operations are not immune to attack. Many jurisdictions require periodic review of permit compliance, and certain types of permits must be renewed on a regular basis. Protect your investment and carefully track these requirements, engage the community in conversations about how great your operations are, and be sure to keep an eye on new local and state legislative initiatives that might affect you.

    Ultimately, ease in permitting of new facilities and maintenance of entitlements for existing facilities is tied to societal attitudes. Community acceptability of the aggregate industry is likely to occur one person — and one facility — at a time.

    Individuals must learn to recognize the critical importance of concrete. If your project can be at least compatible, and perhaps popular, community attitudes can begin to change and your next permitting effort might be easier.

    Nancy Bainbridge Rogers is a partner with the law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann. She specializes in property and development issues.

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