Awards: Partnership for Improving North Carolina's Environment
The Federal Highway Administration's
2003 Environmental Excellence Awards
Partnership for Improving North Carolina's Environment
The senior leadership at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(DENR) and the North Carolina Department of Transportation(NCDOT) is committed to providing
for North Carolina’s transportation needs while protecting the State’s environmental and
natural resources. With the Governor’s support for a more effective and efficient working
relationship, the two agencies have embarked on a partnership that better serves the people
of our state and fosters the growth of healthy and safe communities statewide. DENR’s
Secretary Bill Ross and Chief Deputy Secretary Dempsey Benton and NCDOT’s Secretary Lyndo
Tippett and Deputy Secretary Roger Sheats as a group serve as a national model for
interagency partnerships for environmental stewardship and streamlining.
Building off the excellent foundation of previous DENR-NCDOT efforts, the Secretaries of DENR
and NCDOT formalized their partnership in 2001 in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding
which outlined a set of common goals that support environmental stewardship and responsible
and timely transportation decision-making. Senior management at these agencies recognize
that the key to success hinges on establishing and maintaining trust at all levels within
and between agencies, communicating effectively, and providing the resources to undertake
initiatives that support specific goals. Moreover, DENR-NCDOT leadership builds partnerships
with state and federal agencies, as well as the private sector, to leverage support and
active participation, thereby increasing the potential for success.
Evidence of this successful partnership can be seen in the numerous environmental stewardship
and streamlining initiatives that have been undertaken cooperatively by DENR and NCDOT. Most
notable are the process improvements in the areas of environmental permitting and wetland,
stream, and buffer mitigation. Senior DENR-NCDOT leadership served as sponsors for these
process improvement initiatives and solicited the partnership of other state and federal
resource agencies to make substantive changes to increase the efficiency of the processes
without compromising the quality of the environment. The Chief Commander of the US Army
Corps of Engineers – Wilmington District (USACE) joined the DENR-NCDOT leadership in
sponsoring the process improvements, and the Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish
and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission,
and NC Department of Cultural Resources were active participants. Since the environmental
permitting and mitigation processes are shared, leadership believed it was imperative that
all the stakeholders come together to ensure that the improvements appropriately
addressed the challenges that all the process participants were experiencing. These
initiatives have required an intense commitment of resources and are improving the
quality and efficiency of North Carolina transportation projects. In addition, the
initiatives have gone a long way to enhance communication and build effective working
relationships between agencies.
Another example of leadership’s effort to partner are the DENR-NCDOT monthly Senior Staff
Meetings where strategic issues about transportation and the environment are discussed.
Several emerging issues, such as secondary and cumulative impact assessment and air
quality conformity, have been successfully resolved by leadership in a manner that
meets the public purpose missions of both agencies. Together, the two agencies have
identified specific goals and strategies for their partnership, which are documented
in one-year and three-year work plans. The leadership team works closely to set
priorities for agency staff for alignment between and within the agencies and monitors
DENR and DOT have also developed and instituted a formal dispute resolution procedure.
The procedure ensures that difficult issues are resolved at the lowest level possible
within each agency while allowing elevation of the issue in a timely manner, as needed,
for resolution by senior management. The USACE has also recently begun attending in an
effort to improve communication and participate in this forum to discuss strategic issues.
In order to enhance participation by DENR staff early and throughout all phases of
transportation project development, implementation and maintenance, NCDOT currently funds
13 positions within DENR. These positions are able to bring issues and concerns to the
table early and help develop proactive ways of dealing with them. In addition, some of
the positions provide joint environmental training to NCDOT, DENR and other state and
federal agency staff. Without the commitment of resources for this program, NCDOT would
not likely be able to deliver its transportation program in a timely manner.
DENR and NCDOT have pooled resources to purchase environmentally sensitive tracks of
land that were subject to developmental pressure. A recent purchase, in cooperation
with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, was made of Bird Island in Brunswick
County on North Carolina’s southern coast. This 147-acre island, which is surrounded
by about 1100 acres of marshland, is now part of the state’s Coastal Reserve Program.
The two state agencies also participated in the purchase of two view sheds along the
Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina (a National
Byway) with assistance from the federal Enhancement Program. The Conservation Trust
of North Carolina, a non-profit organization, also played an important role in
acquiring these properties, one which is now part of the North Carolina State Parks
system and the other which was gifted to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
DENR’s River Basin Signing Program has been facilitated by NCDOT’s involvement. In
a cooperative effort, DENR and NCDOT identified the appropriate locations for the
placement of river basin signs along primary routes designating boundaries of each river basin.
The river basin signs were purchased through a grant from the Enhancement Program, and NCDOT
installed them. North Carolina’s state transportation map also includes the 17 river basins
throughout the state, as well as contact information for DENR’s Office of Environmental
Education who shepherd the River Basin Signing Program. This collaborative effort helps to
heighten the public’s awareness of the importance of water quality and what they can do to
improve the water quality in their communities.
Basinwide Restoration Plans, which are comprehensive water quality improvement plans, are
being developed by DENR’s Wetland Restoration Program largely through NCDOT’s grant of $2.5
million annually for a period of seven years. These plans will enable wetland and stream
mitigation to be targeted in a manner that most effectively addresses the specific water
quality needs of a particular watershed. These plans will also be used by other entities for
watershed enhancement and mitigation opportunities.
The North Carolina Air Quality Roundtable, co-sponsored by NCDOT, DENR and other entities,
is a workshop series bringing together stakeholders from thirty different groups to
cooperatively work to improve North Carolina's response to air quality as it pertains to
transportation. The Roundtable will work to improve NC’s response to new air quality
standards through education and building technical capacity. Ultimately, the efforts of
the Roundtable will result in cleaner air and an improvement in the quality of life for
Other cooperative initiatives that are sponsored and supported by senior management at DENR and NCDOT include:
- information technology improvements, such as updating and adding components to the Geographic
Information System that have facilitated responsible environmental and transportation decision-making
- delegation of DENR’s Sedimentation and Erosion Control Program to NCDOT for the transportation
projects implemented by the state
- joint training, such as indirect and cumulative impact assessment
The partnership between DENR and NCDOT, led by the senior leadership within these agencies,
has been crucial to the success of numerous environmental stewardship and streamlining
activities. Their ability to create a common vision with supporting goals and creatively
share resources serves as a national model. The subsequent development of new tools,
improved processes, and enhanced working relationships are the keys to responsible
transportation decision-making and the protection and enhancement of North Carolina’s
precious environmental resources.