Eco-permitting rules unified in Florida

HERALD STAFF REPORTOctober 2, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- A rulemaking process to provide more consistency for environmental resource permitting, which affects surface waters and wetlands, went into effect Monday.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida's five water management districts previously used at least five different versions of the rules, which regulate permits designed to regulate activities that affect Florida's wetlands and surface waters.

An ERP is required before beginning any construction activity or operation that would affect wetlands and other surface waters or contribute to water pollution. The permit process exists to protect Florida's lakes and streams, wetlands and other surface waters from stormwater pollution, flooding and any other environmental risk factors.

"Creating a statewide ERP rule allowed us to make long-overdue improvements to a confusing process while maintaining our stringent environmental standards," said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. in a press release.

The department began the rulemaking process in June 2012, following legislation signed two months earlier by Gov. Rick Scott granting the department authority to create one statewide rule for the environmental resource permit program.

The new rule standardizes processing procedures, definitions and forms required to be submitted.

Permit fee categories have also been standardized. Permit processing fees are now based upon the area of work activities instead of the fee being based upon the entire site or parcel of land.

The department worked with water management districts, local governments, citizens and businesses throughout the development of the statewide rule, staging more than 10 workshops, most via webinars exceeding 150 participants.

For the first time, stakeholders were able to communicate, discuss, comment and make suggestions in an online open discussion forum and participate in workshops

via webinar. This allowed allow individuals to comment on rule drafts and offer suggestions on revisions. All interested parties were able to see the comments and responses during the rulemaking process.

To assist with implementation and understanding of the new statewide rule, a department webinar helped the regulated community. More than700 landowners, environmental consultants and engineers participated.

Additional training opportunities are being provided this week by the water management districts and the department's local offices.

The department also rolled out an electronic application site for applicants to apply for ERP permits by submitting the application and associated materials online instead of having to submit paper copies to the department. This new service was developed alongside the statewide ERP rulemaking process.

Information: dep.state.fl.us/water/wetlands/swerp/.

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