Healthy environment, healthy economy

If you were to apply today to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for an environmental permit, it’s likely that it would be processed in a short period of time, and more quickly than if you applied for a comparable environmental permit from any of the other New England states. But it wasn’t always this way.Environmental permitting in New Hampshire was often disjointed, time-consuming and fraught with uncertainty for homeowners, businesspeople and municipal officials because four separate state agencies were responsible for ensuring protection of our air, water, and for waste management.In response, 25 years ago, the Legislature formed DES to create a centralized system to oversee environmental permitting, improve coordination across programs, ensure appropriate opportunity for public review and comment and streamline processing while ensuring that our environment would be protected and restored as the state’s economy continues to grow.As a result, today in New Hampshire a strong economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand, and it’s widely recognized that the formation of DES has played a major role in promoting the state’s high quality of life.Over the years, DES has worked to improve permitting information for all of our “customers,” by creating tools such as the 1988 Guidebook for Environmental Permits in New Hampshire — providing, for the first time, guidance to agency customers on all of DES’ various types of permits, licenses and approvals. The permit guide has evolved to its current online version, which describes in detail the 95 different types of authorizations currently administered by DES (, look for Permits under Quick Links).DES also offers pre-application meetings to give applicants early and direct access to agency staff, as well as to identify in one sitting all DES requirements for a project, activity or event.These meetings give the applicant an active forum within which to discuss preferred methods of successfully preparing and submitting applications to DES, to obtain advice on how to avoid common pitfalls and to provide follow-through to an ultimate decision.DES is always in pursuit of new permitting innovations to improve customer service. For example, the Land Resources Management Program implemented the integrated Application Receipt Center (ARC) in 2010.The ARC created a single, standardized process by which permit applications are received, entered into a tracking database, and forwarded to technical review for four programs – wetlands, shoreland, alteration of terrain and subsurface systems, or septic systems.The result is no delay in the initial processing of applications, improved standardization of these initial tasks, and greater automation of daily activities, such as check processing. In fact, the ARC conducts practically every administrative completeness review within one day of application receipt.Future improvements at DES include online submission of application materials through e-permitting, streamlining the technical review processes, and integrated permitting within the land resource management programs. Our goal is to provide our customers with a streamlined, consistent state permitting process that would allow issuance of a single integrated permit through a process that will provide enhanced up-front guidance and appropriate opportunities for public input — and will likely reduce final permit review and approval timeframes.New Hampshire continues to be cited as “the most livable state in the nation.” Part of this continuing honor is attributable to the thoughtful, open, coordinated permitting process provided by DES in collaboration with its many partners in both the public and private sectors. Together we can ensure that New Hampshire continues to be a state where a healthy environment and a robust economy go hand-in-hand.Thomas Burack is commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Services, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Categories: Opinion