Expand Into Production: Navigate the Permit Process
BY Catherine Sutton-Choate
Editor’s Note: For 2024, AsphaltPro Magazine allows experts in the industry to share how to expand your operations to the next phase of business. Are you ready to take the plunge and start making your own mix? Let’s turn to some professionals who have equipment, services, software and tenure to help you expand to mix design, production, hauling and more. This month’s installment from Astec Industries Inc., Chattanooga, takes an overarching look at the permitting process.
There are a few important steps to keep in mind when seeking a permit for a hot-mix asphalt (HMA) facility. Please remember that regulations can vary quite a bit, so the tips we’re providing here are of a general nature. The actual procedures might differ in your area. If you’re ever unsure about how to move forward, it’s a good idea to reach out to a local consultant who has experience with permitting industrial facilities like HMA plants. This guide is meant to offer helpful suggestions, but it’s not a strict rulebook you must follow to the letter.
Site and Zoning
Site selection is an important consideration when contemplating installation of an HMA facility. It’s wise to prepare a thorough site analysis before proceeding further. Several areas need to be addressed at this stage of the project:
- Are other plants already servicing the area? If so, research them thoroughly.
- Is there an adequate customer base for my product? How much will the plant produce annually?
- How much truck traffic will the plant generate? Consider the movement of both raw materials and finished product.
- Is there easy access to community arteries from my plant site that can handle the additional traffic?
- Is there a nearby source of raw materials?
- What utilities services are needed and available?
- Are there geological features (i.e., wetlands) at the site that must be considered?
- Are there nearby neighbors that may potentially be impacted by the facility?
- What impact to the environment will there be from the facility?
Another consideration is the zoning classification of the intended site. Though not a necessity, it’s preferable to select property already zoned for industrial use. Rezoning parcels or obtaining waivers to use the site for an industrial facility can be difficult.
Review all local ordinances to determine operating restrictions on parameters such as hours of operation, permissible sound levels, maximum structure height and exterior lighting to name a few. It’s important to verify whether different standards apply for day versus night operations. Facilities are often held to tighter standards during night operations, particularly for properties located adjacent to parcels with different zoning classifications.
Next, determine the applicable environmental requirements. Some municipalities have local agencies that issue operating permits within their specific jurisdiction. Local regulations take precedent as they must be at least as stringent (but are typically more stringent) as the state-level regulations. It is often helpful to speak personally to a permit engineer in the industrial sources division. Reviewing the operational requirements will allow you to select plant components to comply with applicable environmental regulations. You will need equipment information for dealing with the local authorities for site approval.
Once a site has been selected, contact the local planning board to schedule an in-person meeting. The intent is to determine if the proposed facility is compatible with the long-term land use plans for the community. Compatibility often depends on zoning classification of adjacent parcels. Communities typically cluster industrial sources and try to locate them away from commercial, institutional and residential land uses. The planning board should be able to indicate whether your facility will be a welcome addition to the community at the preferred site. They can also indicate what permits will be required for installation.
Engage the Community
Many contractors mistakenly try to keep their intentions a secret. Secrecy often leads to problems further along in the process, even if done for competitive reasons. This is especially problematic for sites near residences. Homeowners are naturally concerned with industrial facilities that may affect their quality of life. They often feel the contractor is trying to “sneak” into the community. Affected neighbors, by law, have the right to make comments during all public hearings. Public opinion can greatly sway approval decisions by elected officials, even when all operating criteria are met.
Fear causes objections by many people. The public is concerned about their health, property values, truck traffic, odors and obtrusive noise. Contractors should personally contact businesses and homeowners within a reasonable distance of the intended site. Plan to visit the homeowners in person if there are only a few houses. For larger neighborhoods, mail a letter to residents and schedule an in-person visit with community representatives. The letter should contain a summary of your proposed project. Include your contact information so residents can respond with concerns. The purpose is to determine the specific concerns of those potentially affected by your facility. You can better respond to, and hopefully allay, their fears, by addressing their specific concerns.
The key to obtaining community approval is education. Great ways to educate the community include hosting an informational meeting for the community and, if possible, organizing a tour of a nearby facility (ideally from the same manufacturer of the proposed equipment). Limit trips to facilities that are well maintained so it will be a positive experience for the visitors.
Informal gatherings allow the contractor an opportunity to address neighbors’ concerns without the constraints of a formal hearing. In fact, holding an informational meeting may eliminate opposition if a hearing is required.
At the meeting:
- Present a short explanation of your project.
- Address any aspects of the opposition’s position that may have been publicly voiced.
- Display pictures or models of equipment similar, if not identical, to what is proposed for the plant site.
- Respond to each concern voiced during the meeting individually to avoid fueling concerns over a separate issue that has no merit or would not have been otherwise considered.
- Never evade a question or respond rudely to the person asking it, even if the question seems silly. If you aren’t sure of the answer, indicate that you don’t know (they will appreciate your honesty and you will gain credibility) but will find out for them. Take their name and contact information so you can respond as soon as you have the answer. It’s important to follow through with supplying the requested information. Engage industry experts as necessary to properly answer the enquiry.
Remember, many people may not want to listen to facts that differ from their opinions and there will be people whose minds you will never be able to change. Arguing with such people can have a negative effect on others in attendance.
Emphasize the benefits to the community. Outline the tax revenue to be generated by the facility. It’s typically best not to over-emphasize job creation, as there are often few actual plant employees. Discuss the economic benefits of competition if there are other nearby facilities. Explain that minimizing haul distance can lower costs to the community for road construction projects because trucking costs are a significant factor in the price of hot mix. If replacing an older plant, note the positive benefits of replacing old equipment with new state-of-the art components, including lower emissions and quieter equipment operation.
To build good will, many contractors participate in community endeavors, such as Little League team sponsorship. Outline how your company intends to positively contribute to the community.
Plan to discuss all aspects of truck travel in and around your plant site. Trucking can have a huge effect on special land use permits and property re-zoning. Commission a traffic study for a greenfield site at the onset of the project. The study should involve determining the composition of traffic currently using the roadways that will be traversed by vehicles entering and departing your property. Pay particular attention to nearby land uses. Schools, hospitals and emergency vehicle stations are problematic as they each have traffic flow issues of their own. Plan your truck routes so that they are directed away from such entities, if possible.
Truck routes should also be planned to minimize impact on the community. Make realistic estimates of all truck flow in and out of the plant site. Account for the delivery trucks bringing in raw materials as well as haul trucks heading to the job site. Include both directions of travel in your traffic estimate, keeping in mind that trucks may enter or depart from the site empty.
Be prepared to address how your facility will minimize odorous impacts to surrounding land. The overwhelming response from the community is that they don’t want to smell asphalt fumes. This largely stems from the assumption that the odors must be harmful. However, that is not the case. Most compounds present in HMA facilities have low odor detection thresholds, meaning they can be smelled at concentrations far below exposure limits designed to protect against adverse health responses. Odors are typically regulated at the local level via zoning ordinance. Some states are beginning to implement odor limits within their air pollution regulations.
Sound and Emission Compliance
The emission regulations pertaining to the intended site will influence the plant components necessary for compliance. Facilities will have to install a baghouse filter collector to meet federal particulate standards. Several states are now requiring dispersion modeling for plant emissions to determine pollutant concentrations at the property line and possibly nearby receptors. Modeling results can reveal the need for taller stacks, additional emission controls, and equipment arrangement on the site.
Emphasize that your project will fully comply with all environmental regulations. Local planning or zoning boards have no authority to regulate air emissions. However, they can require implementation of certain mitigation methods as a special use permit condition.
Plant configuration and layout can affect the sound output during operation. When a strict sound ordinance is in effect, conduct modeling to predict the anticipated sound levels. The proposed equipment may have to be amended during this stage. Sound contours for the facility can show how the plant should be oriented on the site, placement of material stockpiles, and whether silencers are required. It is best to abate sound levels through strategic placement of plant components and stockpiles.
Obtaining permits for asphalt mixing plants is crucial for environmental compliance and community harmony. Each step, from site selection to zoning, environmental requirements and community engagement, helps ensure a productive and successful process. Following the steps suggested here fosters trust from the community, benefitting both the HMA operation and its surroundings.
Begin preparing the various permit applications as soon as the project has been deemed feasible. Obtaining required permits can take a great deal of time, so start this step as early in the process as possible. Keep in mind that it is usually easier to make amendments to a permit than to obtain one in the first place. While it is better to have already selected specific equipment, it is sometimes possible to make changes once the permit is issued. It is best to check with the permit authority over your project concerning its policy. Required permits may include a special land use permit, building permit, air permit and a storm water permit.
Catherine Sutton-Choate is the IPS Director of Product Documentation & Environmental Compliance for Astec Industries, Chattanooga, Tennessee. For more information, visit AstecIndustries.com.