Permitting

Given the high cost of fuels and energy across much of Alaska, many new projects to develop local resources will be starting across the state over the coming years. Each of these projects will have its own set of needs and development plans. This information will help agencies determine what authorizations are required for a project to progress from conception through construction to operational phase. The specific permits necessary will depend on many variables, and may come from a wide assortment of agencies. Land owners and regulating agencies have the authority to determine what is needed. The developer has the responsibility to work with them all to aquire the proper permits for the project.

Each project will need site control, which is achieved by specific authorization from the land owner. Projects can be on private, native, municipal, state, or federal lands. Often they cross land ownership boundaries necessitating permission from more than one land owner. Hydrokinetic projects in rivers or in the ocean also require permission from the agency that owns the submerged land. In addition, navigation or other access issues need to be addressed. In Alaska, subsurface owners rights predominate over the surface owner’s rights, but impacts on the surface owner must still be addressed. There may be different authorizations for different phases of the life of the project. These authorizations often come in the form of permits, leases, or rights of way with stipulations that govern use.

In addition to site control, the use and activities that are part of the project often require the developer to go through other regulatory processes and obtain further authorizations. These other regulatory requirements may control the use of the land and resources or even the sale of power. There may be requirements for the actual physical construction and operations or for management of the camp for the construction crew. Activities during the resource and environmental assessment stage may require different authorizations. Sometimes permitting requirements for larger projects can be coordinated, but often each agency must follow its own regulatory process. Some authorizations are dependent on others, such as the overall umbrella requirement to first obtain a consistency review under the Alaska Coastal Management Program (when the project is related in the coastal district boundaries). Authorizations for experimental projects are short term in nature and will not carry any preference right, implied or otherwise, toward a long term authorization.

Specific regulations govern how an application and subsequent authorization is treated by the nature of the applicant. For instance, with some authorizations, a licensed public utility may have different process and fee requirements than an independent power producer. This is important to understand as it may have longer term implications in the event that the project developer intends to transfer ownership or operation in the future. If the proposed transferee does not qualify under the same terms and conditions of the original authorization, a totally new authorization process would be required.

Some authorization processes are driven by strict timelines. A majority of the authorizations will take some time to obtain. It is essential that the project developer understand the probable timelines to obtain the necessary authorizations. Entities seeking permits are encouraged to start early by working with the authorizing agencies to reduce the chance of project delays at critical junctures. Many agencies are under large workloads, and it is rare that the agencies can drop the permits they are working on in order to expedite an individual request. Energy projects funded through grants do not guarantee that a project can get all authorizations. Grants do not set agency authorization-processing timelines.

The project developer may need to gather data or conduct studies that will be used to determine the appropriate stipulations on given authorizations. Some of the federal processes require environmental or environmental impact assessments which can take a significant amount of time. Most state and federal regulatory processes require a public process with a chance for the public to provide input into the decision-making process. Most public agencies also have some form of option for affected parties to appeal decisions. Agencies try to make sound decisions that will withstand challenge and thus not delay projects. It is in the project developer’s best interest to cooperate fully in providing required information to the respective agencies. Developers need to schedule these resource assessments and review periods into their proposed timelines.

Because of the complexity of the permitting requirements, and the diversity of resource development projects, it is best to start working with the agencies early in order to understand the potential authorizations that are needed and the appropriate timing for applications to be submitted. Professional permitting and project consultants will contract for this type of work and help a developer acquire the necessary approvals. Most agencies have a specific contact who can explain what is needed or provide contacts with the appropriate entities. The following is a list of some of the agencies that should be contacted to determine issues of land ownership or required authorizations. Many agencies offer a centralized public service center, the best initial contact point. Note that this does not include a list of all the potential land owners, nor does it break down each agency that may require more than one type of authorization.

  • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources
  • Regulatory Commission of Alaska
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Whether project developers are operating in the Coastal Zone or not, two websites provided by the Division of Coastal and Ocean Management under the Department of Natural Resources provide helpful information and diagnostic tools for determining when various agencies should be contacted.

Additional Resources
Coastal Project Questionnaire: http://dnr.alaska.gov/coastal/acmp/Projects/pcpq3a.html

Agency contacts in regions of the state: http://dnr.alaska.gov/coastal/acmp/Contacts/PRCregcont.html

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