Legislation speeds DEP permit process

By Angela Carter, Register Staff

HAMDEN - A new law that takes effect today aims at streamlining the environmental permitting process, to help economic development projects move swiftly and smoothly.

"We all know that time is money," Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association and chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday during a press conference to highlight the law. "In many cases, permitting delayed or prevented projects."

The press conference was held at Quinnipiac University's new, $300 million Rocky Top Student Center, and state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the location reflected the ability of government and permit applicants to work cooperatively and efficiently on building projects.

He said Hamden's permitting process could serve as a model, where Quinnipiac worked with local officials to get the student center project done on time.

The long delays experienced by businesses awaiting state DEP permits have been the focus of all three gubernatorial candidates, Republican Tom Foley, Democrat Dan Malloy and independent Tom Marsh, who have pledged to oversee a more timely process.

Public Act 10-158 requires expedited permitting for economic development projects that need environmental, public health and transportation permits, and creates a permit ombudsman office to coordinate regulatory reviews as part of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner must now make "all reasonable efforts" to review initial applications for inadequacies within 60 days and then issue tentative determinations - for approval or denial - within 180 days.

A report from the DEP to the General Assembly on specific ways to streamline, as well as a pilot plan to expedite permitting for 200 or more manufacturing and industrial facilities, will be released today.

DEP spokesman Dennis Schain said the assessment report will go into "great detail" on specific suggestions for more timely permits. He said some would require legislative or statutory changes or additional resources, although the DEP realizes cost increases are an issue in these difficult economic times.

Looney was joined by state Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge; state Reps. Peter Villano, D-Hamden; Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire; and Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford; and Lynn Bushnell, Quinnipiac vice president for public affairs.

"Without having business development in this state, we won't have the resources to protect the environment. It's a connection that's often missed," Esty said.