DEQ: Permit approval depends on project, applicant

Delays holding up major public and private projects in Warren County might not necessarily be the state’s fault.  The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality handles stormwater management permit applications for new development in the county. But, according to one official with the agency, the approval process relies just as much on the applicant as the reviewer.

Recently, county officials and leaders questioned whether or not they should rethink handing those duties over to the state or take them on at the local level. Several major developments such as the IT Federal project in the former Avtex Fibers site, the Aldi grocery store in the U.S. 340-522 Corridor and the county’s second middle school need such permits to move forward.

Drew Hammond, manager of the DEQ’s Office of Stormwater Management, gave an update on several projects Thursday. The Front Royal-Economic Development Authority and the designer for the IT Federal project applied to the DEQ for a stormwater permit late last year. On Aug. 19, the reviewer contacted County Administrator Douglas Stanley, who indicated he would track down the last remaining item needed for the DEQ to approve the plan, Hammond said, citing agency notes. A question has arisen over whether or not part of the stormwater management system is on property owned by the EDA or Honeywell. The approval process could be delayed further if the EDA needs permission from Honeywell.

“At this point, what’s left to be resolved is in the Economic Development Authority’s hands,” Hammond said.

How well an applicant prepares a stormwater management plan can determine the time it takes the DEQ to approve the permit, Hammond said.

The state agency made substantial changes last year to its technical criteria for post-development stormwater management. Developers and designers are still getting up to speed on how those changes affect project engineering, Hammond said. But experience shows that as designers become more familiar with the changes, the process takes less time, he said.

The Warren County Middle School is also under review. The DEQ received the application for the stormwater management plan Feb. 12, Hammond said, citing the plan-tracking log. The DEQ sent comments back to the applicant in mid March. The agency received a re-submittal with responses to the DEQ comments four months later on July 27.

“So there was a long period of time there where we went from March to August with nothing at the department to review,” Hammond said.

The DEQ could approve the application for the school soon unless it needs more information from the applicant.

Plans for the Aldi grocery store also remain in the pipeline awaiting further review. The developers submitted the application Dec. 8. The DEQ issued comments within the 30-day period. Developers resubmitted the application at the end of May, Hammond said. The developers went through a handful of revisions associated with the application. The DEQ sent it back with comments on Aug. 7 and the agency is waiting for the developer to respond and resubmit the application.

By contrast, the DEQ received the paperwork for the Warren County Health and Human Services project in mid August 2014. The agency approved the application that November, Hammond said. The DEQ received documents for the Thompson Kiss-and-Ride in February and approved the application in May. An application submitted in March for a Valley Health project in Riverton Commons received approval in mid May. The review process for the fueling station at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 340-522 took about four months.

“There is some back and forth,” Hammond said. “A lot of it really depends upon the complexity of the project and how well prepared the set of construction documents are when they first come in.

“I’m not trying to paint the picture that any one engineering is better than another,” Hammond added.

The DEQ has 60 days to perform a plan review but agency workers aim to complete the work in less time. Some applications have been reviewed and approved within 30 days, Hammond said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com