Permitting Greenfields Does Not Have to Be an Impossible Task.
By Christopher Hopkins
This is the second in a two-part series on greenfield permitting. –Ed (Read part-one here)
Last month, in the first part of this article, we discussed the challenges of greenfield permitting: starting the process by engaging the proper authorities and finding supporters in the community.
Once you have met with your commissioners or city councilors, meet with your neighbors that day if you can. You should avoid at all costs trying to get your outreach completed with one large neighborhood or community meeting.
The chances of that type of meeting going awry are likely. If you have 50 or 100 people in a room, it takes one or two people shouting false allegations and myths about the industry and the process to create panic and fear. Once that happens you cannot get the group back.
You should meet with your immediate neighbors one on one, door to door or as small a group as possible. Yes, this will take longer but when meeting with someone individually or within a small group of five, it will be far more civil, and you will be able to have an actual discussion providing facts, figures, new science and procedures. You are anticipating their concerns and addressing them before they can fester and become irrational fears.
I always try to, and I recommend that everyone walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before you meet with them, especially the neighbors that are closest to your proposal.
For most Americans, the largest investment they will ever make in their lives is their home. They pay for it over 30 years sometimes and many of us count it as a retirement asset when the time comes to downsize. How do you think they will react when someone is telling them that what you are proposing will diminish the value of their most prized and important asset?
If they start thinking and believing that their retirement plans have just been dramatically thrown off course, or they will not be able to sell their house, then fear has taken over.
In one case in Utah, we were able to point out to people in one county that right next door to a current operation in the same county, developers were constructing a subdivision with the starting price of homes at $700,000.
When you face a community meeting and residents become angry, impatient, untrusting, it is being done out of fear. They have been told that someone, (you) is going to change their way of life, their plans for the future. You need to always be aware of that going in and be ready to do anything you can to ease their fears, address their concerns.
You should never take what is said in public meetings personally; it is not good business and will only go to increase the chances of being unsuccessful.
I had one client who had a public meeting where the residents said some pretty awful things about the company and some of their representatives. The response of the client was not to meet with them anymore.
I set up a working group with five representatives from the neighborhood and the company officials refused to participate. This only led to an increase in tension, solidified the opposition, and all discussions came to a grinding halt.
You need to educate the public. Most people do not know much about our product or its use. They may think about highways and bridges, but overall the public is unaware of what comes from a limestone quarry.
We all use an average of 10,000 tons of aggregate per year. The average home we are sitting in has 400 tons of aggregate in it.
Our homes, schools and churches; and everyday items such as makeup, medicine, fertilizer, food and more are used every day. Have brochures with you that explain this and personalize the product for the public.
Discuss with everyone the environmental benefits that gravel provides. The stone assists in the cleaning of industrial smokestacks, eliminating the sulfur that gets into the air. The use of aggregate in water filtration and purification systems, sewage control and erosion control protects shorelines and navigable waterways. Take the discussion away from roads and asphalt and make it more personal.
Once the average person hears about all the uses for our product and they learn more about the science that is involved in quarrying as well as the regulatory microscope we are under, fears can be eased. They may never openly support the project, but they will be more accepting and less hostile.
The anti-mining groups out there – and you will never change their opinion – will bring up incidents that occurred years ago, sometimes decades ago. Be ready and prepared to discuss how science has evolved over that time: how over the last two decades the progress in regulatory oversite and the advancement of the science and equipment that we use has made producing aggregate cleaner, safer and more efficient – all to the benefit of the public.
Once you have begun meeting with your neighbors and other members of the community, you should set up a working group that takes you through the permitting process and beyond.
Include representatives of the neighborhoods that will be most impacted: homeowners associations, local business owners and environmentalists. The key point to remember here is to have an ongoing dialogue. It is not enough to meet with people once and then forget about them.
Keep this a small group, five to 10 people, and have meetings with them on a consistent and regular basis. Someone’s home would be preferable as it can ease the tension that may arise. People generally do not want to get angry when they are a guest in someone’s home.
Some agitators may complain that you are limiting the size of the group in order to “divide and conquer,” but when I have set them up and worked with the residents, they mostly understand that this is a working group and the more people that are in the room, the less that tends to get accomplished.
Make sure your invitation list includes local elected officials from that district, so they will not feel that you are going around them, and they can observe your efforts to work with the neighbors and listen to their concerns.
Keep trying to set up meetings with the most ardent opponents, separately of course, although they typically refuse to attend.
Once at a public hearing, one of the members of that type of group stood up before a planning commission and stated that the company never once met with them to address their concerns. The attorney representing the company was able to stand up and provide a list of scheduled meetings and invitations that were sent out. This negated the argument of the anti-mining group on the spot.
The purpose of this group is to have an ongoing dialogue with the people who are most concerned. You are primarily there to answer questions and listen, take-down any issues, and hear out concerns that the neighbors have. And let them know that if there are any questions you cannot answer on the spot, you will have the answer the next time you sit down or within 48 hours.
These meetings should be held frequently during the permitting process and ease up after you are open and operating. These meetings should be held on a consistent and predictable basis, and you should be the one suggesting the group meets more frequently.
Most people will not have time for many meetings and if they tell the commissioners that your company is wanting to meet with them too often, that sends a positive message to the commissioners.
These meetings again should be used to educate the members about our product, the uses of it, and personalize our product to each member of the group.
Tools That You Should Be Using
Education is one of the biggest tools that we have to use. Educating the public through our messaging about the industry, your company, and progress that is occurring is critical.
You should always be discussing the benefits of having the company in the community, the tax revenue that will come, the new jobs, the cost savings for the county of having their supply so close. Provide a calculation of how much the county DPW will save each year due to not having to bring rock in from a greater distance.
One of the better tools is the personal touch, keeping a consistent and ongoing dialogue with every facet of the community, the residents, officials and the media. The more they get to know you, the more they will trust you and the less pushback you will receive. Transparency is part of that trust so always be straight and upfront with the people.
Social media is tool that is not used enough in our industry, or not used effectively. You know that it is being used by opponents across the country, it is a great benefit to them. If you are a national company, they can track any issue you may have with any operation around the world.
You can use a social media platform to your advantage. Use Facebook to provide updates on your application, positive items from the company as a whole, good environmental stories from your other operations, information about the industry and the product, highlighting the community benefits.
You can also use the outlet to dispel rumors that may be circulating by providing accurate information about the quarry and the industry. You can use this to advertise local community events and local news as a community service.
For a very small amount of money you can run what are called Facebook Ads. These are ads designed to draw people to your Facebook page. They are very inexpensive, and you can target the recipients by age, gender, income, and a myriad of other factors. A small add will pop up on the Facebook page of the people that are within your demographic target and the zip codes you provide telling them about your page and providing a link to the page.
If you are worried about opponents posting negative, inappropriate, or just nasty comments on your page, do not be. The person who is monitoring your page for you can isolate a comment, which means that only the person who posted the remark can see it and will not be able to tell that no one else can see it.
Either way, we cannot emphasize how much an updated social media presence is a necessary tool as you navigate the permitting process. Your opponents are going to use it, and if you don’t, you are playing with a handicap.
Running a Campaign
As you begin the permitting process, it is essential that you run a campaign to promote your application, educate, identify and mobilize your supporters. Keep your dialogue going with your neighbors, but you also need to expand your supporter base. This involves meeting with specific groups that can appreciate the benefits the quarry will bring. Here are some examples.
- Local Businesses: Meet with local business owners, everyone from the local printer to the sandwich shop, and all in between. You need to educate local businesses of the quarry multiplier effect. Each dollar in sales by the quarry creates $3.47 in sales in other sectors in the community, for every job you create, 4.87 jobs are created in other sectors and each dollar of earnings produced by the quarry brings an additional $4.19 in earnings in other sectors in the community. Numbers such as these will bring local businesses on board as supporters.
- Local Boy Scout Troops: Set up a “Mining in Society Merit Badge” program at the quarry, helping local Boy Scout troops gain this Merit Badge will go a long way to creating goodwill.
- Local Vocational Colleges and Vocational High Schools: Create a relationship and program with these institutions in the county, an internship, for example. It will benefit both of you and the community. It educates the schools and the students about the industry and the positions that are available along with the rate of pay and benefits. This will also address one of the largest problems we have in the industry today, training and retaining workers. If you provide good paying jobs in a county that does not have many, these potential employees are yours for life.
- Play Ball: Donate sand and labor to upkeep local baseball fields. Sponsor sports teams and see if you can buy the naming rights to local sports facilities. These are all ways of using youth sports to connect with the community.
Part of the campaign strategy will be to get involved in the community, not just by writing a check but by having a presence in the community. A good example is in one small town, the quarry was located next to a National Guard base and so when the annual town parade occurred, the quarry’s float was a salute to our men and women in uniform (see photo above).
We had members of the National Guard in uniform on the float with banners on the side showing these men and women working at their everyday job, deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and assisting the local communities during natural disasters. It was the most popular float in the parade. The company only had one banner on the float, on the back that people saw after the float was passing by.
This is part of a campaign that creates a community presence and goodwill in a community. Once you educate the public and identify the supporters, you can mobilize them to take action, such as emailing or calling their commissioner, or attending a public hearing to testify that you have a lot more support than opposition within the community.
The consolidation that is taking place in the industry is a short-term solution for a long-term problem, it increases reserves now for specific companies but does nothing for future reserves. With the rate of population growth in the country and the need for overhauling the nation’s infrastructure there is still a need to identify and permit new resources of rock. It is not an impossible task, it can be difficult and tedious, but not impossible.
These are not your grandfather’s quarries or regulatory processes. The days of backroom deals are over. You need to use every available tool to your benefit.
Christopher Hopkins is CEO of River Landing Solutions, which has been working in the aggregate industry since 2004, permitting quarries in 31 states and three countries. He can be reached at [email protected].
Working with the Media
The local media can be a good friend, or it can be your worst enemy. During the initial political and community assessment, one area that you should have studied is the local media, newspapers, websites and bloggers.
It benefits you to know the media. Where have they stood on specific issues? What is their relationship with the local government? Do they side with the opponents or are they open minded and fair?
This will let you know what to expect as you walk in the room to meet with them. You should begin working with the media at the same time you have informed the local officials and the neighbors. Small local newspapers and web-based news services are prime targets, always seeking content.
It is important to stay ahead of the media. You should start immediately by requesting a meeting with local reporters and local editorial boards. You should be meeting and educating all of the media outlets that carry any weight in the community regardless of how trivial they may sound.
When you meet with them, be ready to review your plans, and answer any and all questions. If you don’t have an answer right then, get back to them before their deadline with an answer.
You will want to meet with all the media outlets before any opposition gets a chance to meet with them bringing their agenda and message. We should be the ones who create the message, not respond to a message.
You can educate the media the same way you would a neighbor or an elected official. Highlight the community benefits, the science involved and the improvements within the industry over the last two decades. Anticipate the complaints that opponents will bring and address those complaints before opponents have a chance to engage the media.
If the media already knows what the complaints will be, then you have already provided them with the answers. Remember to always stay on message with the media, the public and officials. Never give credence to arguments and scare tactics.
You should also stay in constant contact with specific members of the media who can influence the dialogue, repeat your message and discuss the progress we are making.