FAST Act Speeds Up Permitting for Construction Projects

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, is a $305 billion, five-year bill passed by Congress that contains provisions to streamline permitting for construction projects.

The new permit streamlining provisions contained in Title XLI of the FAST Act are based on the previously proposed Federal Permitting Improvement Act sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The legislation responds to and builds on the permit-streamlining project launched by the Obama Administration in 2012 under Executive Order 13,604.

According to the bill sponsors, the new streamlining legislation “seeks to create a smarter, more transparent, better-managed process for government review and approval of major capital projects.”

According to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, the bill:

  • Creates a searchable online “dashboard” to track the status of projects.
  • Reduces the statute of limitations to challenge a project review from six years to two years.
  • Requires courts to consider the potential negative impacts on job creation if an injunction is granted.
  • Establishes a permitting timetable for projects over $200 million.
  • Designates a lead agency and provides for concurrent rather than sequential reviews by agencies.
  • Requires agencies to comment early in the process.
  • Establishes a reasonable proves for determining the scope of project alternatives.

The FAST Act is intended to improve the permitting process for major infrastructure projects in three ways: 1) better coordination and deadline-setting for permitting decisions; 2) enhanced transparency; and 3) reduced litigation delays. None of this comes without cost, however. To help fund the implementation of these reforms, the FAST Act also creates an Environmental Review and Permitting Fund and authorizes all member agencies of the Council to establish fee structures for project proponents to reimburse the costs of federal reviews.

Lafarge Seeks Expansion in Lockport, N.Y.

According to an editorial in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Lockport, N.Y., Lafarge North America’s bid to expand its quarry south of Hinman Road should be predicated by the establishment of a trust fund to compensate neighboring property owners in the event they suffer damages due to mining in the expansion area.

“This is a fair and reasonable expectation of Lafarge, a company whose operation is critical to the local economy but is also, occasionally, annoying or worse to its neighbors,” the paper opined.

Lafarge, doing business as Redland Quarries Inc., is seeking permits to expand its quarrying area by about 220 acres.

“From time to time, the impacts of mining at the existing quarry reportedly are felt by property owners up to several miles away from the drilling and blasting,” the newspaper wrote. “The tell-tale sign? Furniture is rattled in homes on the other side of the city and no earthquake activity was reported by the U.S. Geological Survey. The real and hypothetical concerns of Lafarge’s neighbors cannot be taken lightly, but neither can the importance of Lafarge’s continued operation.”

Company officials have said expansion is necessary because the existing quarry simply isn’t giving up enough transportation-grade stone to supply its prime customers – local cities, towns and the county.

Wisconsin Quarry at Center of Permitting Dispute

Oak Park Quarry, owned by John Halverson, is at the center of a permitting dispute in Deerfield, Wis. While a small group of community members say Oak Park Quarry is not complying with a blasting ordinance, the quarry maintains that the community is not living up to the terms of an existing Conditional Use Permit

According to the Cambridge News and The Independent, Tim Roehl, vice president of the Dane County Towns Association, maintains that because of the Deerfield supervisors’ lack of willingness to come to a compromise, “the state legislature is now aware of the difficulty and may consider legislation that will settle the issue at the state level. This is something the towns would rather avert, for whatever might be legislated for a single township could adversely impact other local governments and their wards.”

Additionally, when the Dane County Zoning & Land Regulation Committee recently met it recommended that supervisors, Halverson and their attorneys meet and resolve this issue, reporting back to the committee at their next meeting on Jan. 12, 2016.

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