The lifeblood of every community is a strong economy fueling job growth, underpinned by a solid and robust physical and community infrastructure. When these pieces fail to flourish and fit, the result is stagnation and unmarketable assets.
It is important that we remember that all parts work together to achieve the kind of success that we all desire. This includes respecting the environment while attending to the need for transportation and infrastructure that helps lift our success. There should be no reason why these objectives can’t work in unison to achieve the balanced needs of our economy and our environment.
Recent news of the sighting of a single endangered Indiana Bat may delay investment of our tax dollars by GDOT in parts of northwest Georgia. More than $450 million in needed highway improvements for up to 58 projects are on hold. This is troubling.
This incident is not uncommon, but it should open the door to further discussion on the administration of federal environmental laws, many enacted in the early 1970s, and the practical application of these requirements.
Compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the preservation of the fragile elements of our eco-structure must be balanced with the practical needs of our citizenry.
The development community, as well as governmental agencies that build highways and public facilities, have long been accustomed to the prescribed process of assessing the impact of their projects on the environment. Millions of dollars are spent each year in Georgia alone to ensure that endangered species are properly identified and protected prior to project approval.
Challenges, however, arise when, after substantial due diligence and mitigation, there still are delays and additional excessive costs to taxpayers or investors when new circumstances are injected, such as the Indiana bat sighting.
Progress is stymied because the laws do not provide a mechanism for quick resolution of these issues. At any time, the process can be halted by authorities, requiring everything to be retooled.
What is needed is a new process to address and mitigate these types of problems quickly and, at least, provisions that allow the applicants to proceed in a reasonable timeframe with aspects of larger complex projects that are not affected by a new environmental discovery.
Current laws simply do not allow for flexible and common-sense approaches. Our political leadership should strive for a more streamlined mechanism that will allow applicants and the authorities a greater degree of latitude when deciding whether large taxpayer-funded projects should be halted.
Contrary to the way it seems in government today, there can be solutions generated by mutual cooperation, but only when there is a mutual goal.
In this case, common sense would be a good goal to start with.
Michael Paris is president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth.