By Joe Liebau, Jr.
Infrastructure projects require substantial design and engineering efforts, and therefore have a unique set of challenges, including successful funding and permitting. Environmental regulations can be complex and penalties for non-compliance can be excessive. By taking the right steps to plan for and secure funding—starting with research and alignment with a grantor’s goals—and avoiding pitfalls in the regulatory process, proponents can be better prepared to ensure a successful project.
Best Practices in Securing Funding
1. Understand the grants available
It is important to stay up to date and frequently apply for available grants, or you may miss out on crucial funding opportunities. Between local, state, federal, and private entities, there are numerous grants available across the environmental spectrum—and the dollars are significant. Be aware of which grants are available so you can maximize your efforts to ensure project success.
2. Include the correct information
Many project proponents quickly craft seemingly accurate applications to save time and money. It is better to allocate the necessary assets to be thorough and comprehensive. To write a successful grant application, it may be helpful to seek expertise that will help position you for success. A partner will often have insight into the information that needs to be included and can ensure it is appropriately tailored to meet the goals of the funding agency and includes the right amount of detail.
3. Administer the grant effectively
After successfully securing funds, it is imperative to manage the grant according to the administrative, financial, and programmatic requirements. Not abiding by these rules puts you at risk of failing audits and being required to return some, or all, of the funding.
4. Layer your grants strategically
Just as a project proponent would create a public participation strategy at the outset of a project, developing a grant strategy allows proponents to maximize the benefits of the funding they receive. Partners can also help you to identify, apply for, and use grants strategically throughout the project lifecycle to maximize the benefits of grant funding—also known as layering.
5. Focus on sustainability
Ensuring an emphasis on sustainability—including long-term social, economic, and environmental benefits of your project—is essential for success when applying for funding and permits. Customers, neighbors, and residents across the nation expect sustainability to be a major component in the work taking place in their communities. Organizations should strive to commit to operate in an environmentally responsible manner by using energy-efficient equipment, nonhazardous and recycled material, renewable power sources, and resilient planning practices when possible.
Common Mistakes in Navigating Regulatory Processes
While developing a grant strategy and identifying funding opportunities, project proponents are well served to begin the regulatory process early to avoid these common mistakes.
1. Delay the regulatory process
State regulatory processes can take up to a year to navigate, and federal processes can take longer. It is crucial to start the permitting process when necessary to get the project underway, and it is often much sooner than project proponents expect. Do your research on regulatory deadlines and set realistic, achievable timelines so your project stays on course.
2. Design your project outside of the regulatory framework
Navigating with regulatory frameworks in place can often lead to disappointment. When project proponents begin with design and attempt to fit their pre engineered solution into the regulatory framework—instead of understanding the regulatory requirements first—they must inevitably deal with additional challenges such as facing slowdowns, redesigns, unanticipated legal fees, and unnecessary redesign components. It is encouraged to take the time to learn the regulatory framework, inside and out, to better avoid these unfortunate circumstances.
3. Underestimate the requirements
Complex projects typically require more permits than proponents anticipate. One example of this is dredging, wherein a specific permit is required to dredge sediment, but without other required permits, dredged material cannot be transported to another location. Knowing and obtaining the other required permits in advance helps save time and alleviate interruption. Visibility, or lack thereof, into the entire regulatory framework impacts your project and its success.
4. Ignore important regulatory and scientific changes
Regulations and legislation are often seen as static, but in contrast, they are continuously evolving and changing. Whether the result of political elections or scientific advancements, state and federal regulatory frameworks fluctuate and must be observed to ensure your project is following current standards. If the regulatory process has not yet been investigated or well planned, it could lead to additional, unnecessary issues for your project.
To successfully fund and permit your next project, it is critical to understand exactly what grant administrators and regulatory agencies will need, and to provide well-articulated and comprehensive information to meet these needs. While the process may seem simple, even routine, the complexities and expertise required make this process one of the toughest challenges proponents encounter during a project.
At Foth, we apply unparalleled insights, expertise, and innovation to help you navigate the complexities of the regulatory and permitting landscape, secure grant funding, and ensure successful project outcomes. The next time an opportunity presents itself to advance your infrastructure improvement plan, consider partnering with an industry expert.
Joe Liebau, Jr. is a client team leader with Foth Environmental Solutions, developing relationships and guiding strategies to solve environmental challenges. Prior to joining Foth, he served as chief of staff for the Environmental Protection Agency, Chicago, where he oversaw operations in Region 5, and worked with state/local governments, businesses, elected officials and citizens to create and give feedback on national environmental and conservation policy. He worked on numerous Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes, and grants and clean water projects through the Great Lakes National Program Office. Prior to this, Joe was secretary director of the Department of Natural Resources, Southeast Region, supporting operations and permitting.