The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Dec. 18 signed a pact designed to establish a coordinated planning and development process for transportation projects. The goal of the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement is to ensure that the state’s vital transportation improvements can be implemented without unnecessary delays, while protecting and enhancing the quality of Tennessee’s environment.
“When I became governor I made it clear that I expected an improved working relationship and better level of communication between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environment and Conservation,” Bredesen said. “This is essential to both the state’s stewardship of the financial resources available for important projects and effective stewardship of our environment. This agreement signifies the continued commitment of both departments toward those goals.”
The joint agreement is modeled on similar documents that have been developed and successfully implemented in other states. The most significant improvement is the creation of “concurrence points.” A concurrence point is a step within the project development process where TDOT will request formal concurrence from TDEC and other resource/regulatory agencies before proceeding with further development of the project.
“This agreement establishes a process for TDOT and TDEC to work together beginning at the earliest phase of a project,” said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “This will allow us to more quickly identify and resolve environmental concerns.”
“This new unified approach will improve the environmental permitting process by including the department, from the beginning, in issues that could impact our natural resources,” added TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke. “From now on, there should be no surprises in the permit application process, which will further improve permitting efficiency.”
The Environmental Streamlining Agreement will require concurrence from each of the signatory agencies at the following four stages of project development:
• The determination of purpose and need for the project and potential project impact area
• The development of project alternatives to be evaluated as part of the environmental review document
• The draft of the environmental review document
• The selection of a preferred project alternative which will include proposed means of mitigating environmental impacts.
With prior concurrence by each agency, the need and application for environmental permits should become an extension of earlier joint decisions. This, in turn, will facilitate the processing of these permits, TDOT said. The new approach is intended to achieve the timely and efficient identification, evaluation and resolution of environmental and regulatory issues.
TDOT is also working with several other resource and regulatory agencies to implement similar agreements by summer 2008.