GETTING STARTED — DETERMINING WHAT PERMITS ARE NEEDED
Ordinance regulations often classify natural gas and other utility projects under the general term of public utilities and usually make distinctions between major and minor utilities. This requires that local codes and ordinances are fully understood in order to classify a project and to specify what permits and regulations are applicable. The physical size of the projects, in terms of acres disturbed and the number of customers serviced by the proposed development, often establishes how a locality will classify it.
Various departments within a given locality can provide the final determination on which permits are required to move forward with construction. Typically, such departments — including planning and zoning, transportation or public works, building, and environmental quality — have their own specific permit needs, depending on the project scope.
In some cases, since natural gas projects classify as a public utility servicing the community, projects are exempt from local zoning and building code requirements. However, this does not exclude the utility from state and federal requirements, including environmental permits.
When building permits are necessary, they require the applicant to submit structural, electrical and/or plumbing-related materials for any enclosures located on-site. Building permitting often includes prefabricated structures and unmanned enclosures used for equipment storage. This effort requires specific information from the contractor and coordination prior to the start of construction. The contractor is then tasked with following up on any necessary inspections during construction and closing out any active permits once work is completed.
Permitting regulations from departments of transportation or public works come into play when the project site requires access to a state or locally maintained road. For utility projects, driveway permits or encroachment approval are the primary focus where regulator station maintenance access is required. Installation of driveways for commercial use must meet state code in addition to any more detailed design standards implemented by a locality. Temporary access points for construction may also require permitting and are worth noting during discussions with appropriate departments.
On any site, the amount of ground disturbance can trigger the need for environmental review or an analysis of sensitive environmental features, such as stormwater, erosion and sediment control, and tree-save assessments. Again, the extent of these permits is dependent on the location of a project and the overall limits of disturbance. State departments of environmental quality will oversee the review of these elements or defer to the local level as the approving authority.