Major siting permit guidebook outlines permitting process


Consultants Betty Johnson of Hofschneider Engineering Corp. and Sonya Dancoe of SP Dancoe & Associate and participants in DCRM’s recent “Know Your CRM Major Siting Permit” training work together on a sample site plan for a parcel featuring a wetland, flood zone, and shoreline setback area. (Contributed Photo)

The Division of Coastal Resources Management has come out with a book that guides potential investors on the permit application process in the CNMI.

According to acting DCRM director Janice Castro, the recently developed guidebook, Know Your CRM Major Siting Permit, fully outlines the permit application and review process, especially for major siting projects.

Major sitings are proposed projects meeting defined thresholds, located inside or outside of a coastal area of particular concern, as outlined in NMIAC Section 15-10-020, that may directly and significantly affect coastal resources.

“Major sitings include projects that are not within an APC, however, may still impact coastal resources,” Castro said. “Such projects may vary greatly in size and scope and could include many activities including mining, home building, hotel and road construction, and infrastructure development.”

Castro said the guidebook provides a step-by-step framework and additional resources on how to avoid adverse impacts of a project, including selecting a viable site for proposed use, and compiling a complete Environmental Impact Assessment.

Because major siting permit applications are reviewed by the CRM board agencies—composed of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Division of Environmental Quality, Department of Public Works, Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Historic Preservation Office, Commonwealth Utilities Corp., the Department of Commerce, and the Division of Coastal Resource Management—the guide explains why permitting is essential to protect coastal resources, communities, and developments; emphasizes that the CNMI’s coastal zone includes all territorial lands and waters; and encourages investors and developers to engage in early planning and consultation with these CNMI agencies for successful compliance and development.

Eliceo Cabrera, acting administrator of the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, said that the first introduction of the scope of the guidebook was held through workshop-style trainings for BECQ staff, the CRM board, and CNMI environmental consultants.

The trainings were led by Suzanne Frew and Bill Whitman of the LYON Consulting Group, along with DCRM permit manager Erin Derrington and CRM planner Emily Northrop. The trainings were centered on group critical-thinking activities that asked participants to make decisions based on limited information, weigh short-term and long-term benefits, and add creative, environmentally- and socially-beneficial design elements to sample project proposals.

“The guidebook serves as a great resource that is comprehensive but easy to navigate. With the guidebook, we hope to observe more projects that are more sustainable and environmentally responsible,” Cabrera said.

One particular exercise asked each table to hold a mock agency pre-application meeting with a “project proponent” to highlight the questions that each side might ask and show how early consultation can help identify potential obstacles and their solutions before significant investment in money, time, and effort.

“Such scenarios are realistic and important to talk about. These trainings and this guidebook will further help BECQ staff communicate when a major siting permit is needed and what information must be included in an EIA, guide the CRM board and their technical staff in reviewing the application package, especially in terms of adequate mitigation, and build the capacity of the business community that develops major siting application packages and the supporting EIA to meet agency expectations and requirements,” she said.

Copies of the guidebook will be available upon final adoption of DCRM’s proposed regulation update. The regulations are currently open for public comment in the Commonwealth Register volume which is available online at For more information, contact DCRM 664-8300. (PR)

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