Author: David J Quatchak
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is preparing to roll out an enhanced Environmental Review Tool. The existing tool is widely used by companies and organizations to screen development projects for potential impacts to threatened, endangered, and special concern species and resources in Pennsylvania. Though an exact roll-out date has yet to be announced by DCNR, the most apparent changes in the new tool will be enhanced mapping capabilities and a $40 online credit-card-only fee to be paid before an Environmental Review Receipt is issued. Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Environmental Review Receipts are required prior to obtaining permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The tool includes databases from three state agencies (DCNR, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) and one federal agency (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
The new tool, called the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer, will replace the existing PNDI Environmental Review Tool, which has been free-of-charge since its launch in 2005. The Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer combines a new Conservation Planning Tool designed to help avoid impacts during project planning stages with a more robust Environmental Review Tool for formally requesting an Environmental Review Receipt. The new tool also has the ability to serve as a digital hub for revising project boundaries and communicating with DCNR. (The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not fully support this functionality.)
Users of the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer will notice several new features:
- The ability to screen possible project locations for potential environmental impacts without submitting the project locations for review
- The ability to create, revise, and save projects independent of submitting them for review
- The ability to revise submitted projects without resubmitting
The new Conservation Planning Tool provides greater access to conservation and species habitat information and allows users to view sensitive ecological areas and, in some cases, protected species habitats, which should make it easier to identify and potentially avoid sensitive areas. This feature could potentially save time and money by allowing the user to avoid impacts, thus reducing or eliminating the need for correspondence with regulatory agencies. The Conservation Planning Tool may be used without registering or logging in to the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer website.
The enhanced Environmental Review Tool is more robust than the existing tool and allows users to upload project shape files in addition to drawing project boundaries on-screen. Project boundaries may also be revised without creating a new project search and incurring an additional fee. Additional drawing tools allow a user to edit, crop, and exclude areas—essentially allowing the inclusion of more than one area for a project, a nice upgrade from the previous version. The tool also displays the project buffer area based on the project type.
Digital hub functionality will be available through the My Project feature of the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer. All correspondence, data, reporting, and project revisions (up to 10 MB in size) can be sent to DCNR through this feature by uploading most common file formats, including doc, jpg, png, text, pdf, ppt, ods, xls, kmz, and kml; however, this feature will be available only to the creator of the project in the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer. This feature will not be available if a second or third party will be providing project documentation, as project sharing is not expected to be included in the initial release of the tool. In these cases, project information must be provided to the project creator for submission through the tool, or it may be provided outside the tool, as it is now. Users may also choose to submit information via mail or complete an entirely offline review, which would require separate communication and coordination with individual regulatory agencies.
If you have questions about the new Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer tool, please contact the post author, David Quatchak (email@example.com), or Dan Maltese (firstname.lastname@example.org), co-lead of the PNDI workgroup for the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Surface Use Committee. Both individuals can also be reached at 800-365-2324.