Public participation is a key component of the environmental review process. It is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to make diligent efforts to involve the public in the preparation of environmental assessments. In fact, NEPA regulations specify using plain language, involving affected communities, and using appropriate communication procedures to ensure meaningful public participation.
It is also a part of the decision-making process for solid-waste permitting and remediation projects. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, “EPA regards public participation as an important activity that empowers communities to become involved in local Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) related activities.” EPA even has an 81-page manual on the process.
Santee Cooper recently held two public meetings at Cross Station and Winyah Station regarding RCRA activities to inform and engage our community neighbors about each station’s groundwater monitoring program and to share information on several alternatives being considered to address and improve groundwater. The goals were to provide information, ask for feedback, and to listen and act on any community concerns.
The format was geared toward making it friendly and welcoming to the public to optimize engagement. Informative stations featured station operations, groundwater monitoring, landfills and ash ponds, remediation alternatives, and coal combustion residuals (CCR) beneficial use. Each station was staffed with experts. The final station provided a place to wrap up and ask any final questions.
Even though the crowds were slim at the two public meetings, engagement was high. Attendees were mostly from the community, and since they either lived or worked near the station, they had a vested interest. Other attendees represented industry or environmental groups. Questions were insightful and well thought out. People attended because they cared about their community and the environment. While by far most of the feedback was positive, the few concerns were well received by station management with immediate follow-up.
Follow-up on public meetings and providing multiple opportunities for comment is important. These Santee Cooper meetings welcomed comments and questions. Comment cards with envelopes were provided to encourage people to later send feedback via direct mail to Santee Cooper.
A South Strand News reporter attended the Winyah meeting. His article noted how Santee Cooper used a station format to show how they will be good stewards of that land. The Post and Courier also reported on the event on Dec. 26, 2019.
These events provide good examples of how public participation enhances the decision-making process for environmental projects while facilitating improved communications between all stakeholders. They met EPA’s gold standard of empowering the community to become involved in this local related activity.