Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will allow cities to review certain water and sewer expansions in an effort to expedite permitting.

Gov. Greg Gianforte and DEQ director Chris Dorrington announced the change this week, describing it as an effort to cut red tape and streamline review processes amid record subdivision applications. Dorrington was recently appointed to the governor’s new affordable housing task force, charged with making recommendations on executive action and legislation to address the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Under the change, cities may complete a contract allowing city engineers to complete certain public water supply plan approvals. The contracts delegate the state’s authority to cover review of waste water and sewer system extensions of 50 or fewer connections.

The contract will cut duplicate review of the projects, said DEQ spokesperson Rebecca Harbage.

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The current system requires contractors to submit water and sewer plans to cities for review. Cities must then submit plans to DEQ for review and approval, she said.

“This contract will allow city engineers, who are already reviewing and approving public water plans, to give final approval on these plans,” Harbage said. “The contract requires city engineers to review a few additional items that DEQ currently looks for, and this allows us to eliminate the final step in which DEQ engineers re-review everything.”

Cities will retain the DEQ fee as compensation and have the option to decline to review an application and pass it on to the state, she said. Harbage added that it is unclear what the change in workload may look like until cities sign up or how many reviews will continue to go to the state.

A template contract for the program was developed with the Montana League of Cities and Towns for cities to sign up. Deputy Director Thomas Jodoin said under state law, DEQ has the authority to delegate reviews back to the city which would speed up the review process for developers. Most, if not all, of Montana’s largest seven cities planned to pursue the contract, he believed.

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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