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Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner: We Want to Make the Permit Process 'Better and Faster for Everyone' 

It has been no secret that the process for securing building permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection has long been fraught with confusion and delays for developers seeking to build or expand properties.

Bob Martin, the  DEP Commissioner, acknowledged this to an audience of about 75 New Jersey Chamber of Commerce members this morning and said his department is working to make the process "better and faster" by transforming application methods, putting all applications online for transparency and requiring all DEP employees go through customer service training.

"There was a time when people would come in for permits and get the runaround," Martin said at the roundtable breakfast in Monroe presented by the N.J. Chamber. "We are working on making it better and faster for everyone, not by lowering environmental standards, but by improving our methods."

A crucial change, he said, is department officials now work with applicants from the early stages of the permitting process to help them better spot and address "red flags."

"We are not going to change regulations and laws," he said. "But there are a lot of regulations that conflict and we can help you get through that."

Further, Martin said plans that require multiple permits are sometimes being considered all at once. In the past, he said, an applicant working on a single project had to seek permits "in waves," a repetitious and frustrating process that could drag on and delay good economic development projects.

To further improve the procedures, he said all applications will be posted online "so people can see what we are doing and how we are doing it." And all DEP employees are going through two rounds of customer training that includes "role playing" and professionalism.

"This economy is coming back and will come back," Martin said. "And we want to make sure the impediments of the DEP are not there."

In other news:

*The DEP is in the process of rating 9,000 contaminated sites in New Jersey from one to five, with five being the worst. A draft report of those ratings is expected to come out in early November, Martin said. "This will allow us to determine where to put our resources," he said. "Those ranked four or five will get the most attention."

*There have been only about a dozen applications for the Waiver Rule, a law that went into effect at the beginning of August that allows the DEP to waive strict compliance with regulations in certain limited circumstances, Martin said. That is much fewer than the DEP anticipated for the first month, he added.

Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, speaks at the Sept. 21 N.J. Chamber breakfast.