Confab: Yet another huddle on the fate of the NCEEP

If I had a dollar for every stakeholder meeting, facilitated discussion, working group, and RFP modification effort I have attended in the last decade concerning the North Carolina mitigation fee program — I could pay for a robust lunch and still have some jingle in my pocket. In fact, I keep a box of magic markers on my desk at all times in order to be prepared for these tedious sessions and their inevitable chart-fliping diagrams of the problems.

A facilitated discussion

Once again, a seeeerious evaluation is being made by the wetland policy industry of the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program.  In this case it is the respected UNC School of Government (SOG) sitting us down to see if we can all just get along.  The ultimate goal is, I fear, to find some political method for justifying the out-of-control, nobody-on-Jones-street-authorized-it, mistake-prone, developer-facilitating, government-price-fixing expensive mess that is the NCEEP.

How about this for an idea taken from the National Environmental Policy Act:  The “No-Build” alternative.

It is time to wind it down.  It is time for “No-Build.” Somehow, 49 other states struggle through the day without subsidizing their developers with a state-wide-pay-and-pave-program.  The North Carolina monstrosity was concocted in 2002 only to sweep a previous scandal concerning the NC Wetland Restoration Program (NCWRP) under the rug with a new name and more money.  Tar Heels would not miss it.   (Unless, of course, you were seeking a subsidized permit to dredge and fill wetlands.)

Yet, I wonder.  Is the “No-Build” alternative even in the SOG’s play book?  The SOG, I understand, had a hand in developing the NCWRP [WRONGMea Culpa], the first iteration of fee-based mitigation in North Carolina. And the SOG is certainly not the School of less Government.  Is it possible for the SOG to simply do the right thing and recommend that the state back-out of the business of providing developers with compensatory mitigation at fixed prices?   Or will we once more trod down the well-worn path of “reform” without substance and meetings without results.  I am keeping an open-mind, but I am not encouraged based on my years of experience.

In the meantime, here is a preview of tomorrow’s gathering lifted from the quite cool NC Water Wiki sponsored by the SOG. One of the other invitees posed a few questions to our host :

In the meantime, here are some similar questions from another potential participant and my answers –

Thank you for the invitation to participate in the SOG Evaluation of the EEP.  In discussing this process with colleagues, some questions have arisen.  Based upon the stated goal of the project: “an independent analysis of EEP’s procurement methods,” the range of topics covered is not clear.
Q:  Can you provide more detail?
A:  The School of Government has been asked to evaluate the EEP’s procurement methods.  I am overseeing the evaluation from the position of evaluation methodology and research methods expertise.  Paul Caldwell, a SOG project director, runs the nuts and bolts of our evaluation projects – he will be the main contact for day to day activities.  Bill Holman and Richard Whisnant are colleagues who are content experts, and they will help facilitate the process, especially the technical conversations.
The word independent is to emphasize that the SOG will be conducting the evaluation in a transparent, neutral fashion, without any preconceptions about the program.  In fact, I have taken steps to avoid even reading about controversy about the program (though I know something is there) so that I can ask as un-biased, methodologically sound questions as possible.
There are two phases outlined at the moment, and we have only contracted for the first.  Before any evaluation can be conducted, there has to be some decision regarding appropriate criteria and standards which serve as the yardstick.  For example, we cannot determine is the process is appropriate, unless someone defines appropriate.  We cannot say if the process is good, or best, or fair, or of high quality, unless someone defines those concepts in a measure-able, researchable way.  This process is what the meetings in the next month are about.  We would like to get feedback on what criteria should be used in our evaluation process.  We will gather feedback from all stakeholders, either in meetings or via a open, public wiki where all comments can be shared.   In the end, the SOG team decide what criteria we recommend to be used.
Q:  For example, will the issues associated with the EBX sale, or credit stacking be included?
A:  Only if they come up in the context of measuring a criteria to used in an evaluation of the process.  These issues are NOT the focus of the discussions, and the meeting facilitators (myself included) will attempt to keep our eyes on the prize, so to speak – what criteria should be used from the participants pespective?  What is more important than others?  Perhaps, what indicators could be used for the criteria?  Do the data exist?
Q:  What is the final product is meant to do?
A:  The final product of this phase will be recommended criteria to use in the evaluation, that is, to allow us to plan for the next phase of the evaluation.  Because we have not determined the criteria, we do not have a firm plan yet for the evaluation steps to be followed – as you can see, the first step needs to be done before the second.   Our emphasis is that this is as participatory as possible, to use strong evaluation methodology, and for the final evaluation, if it can be done, to be considered legitimate by all parties involved.
Q:  What information is this working group seeking?
A:  If your group had to say the EEP had a good procurement process, what would you mean by ‘good’?  Or ‘bad’?   Each group, or individual, or sector, may have different criteria it feels is important.  We are seeking the place where the most criteria overlap to the most groups, so while we may not have consensus, we have identified common ground.
Q:  Is there a due date for a report or finding?
A:  I believe it is the end of March/into April, but I will double check with paul, the keeper of the calendar.  (Paul answered later, saying “There was a question near the end about when the report on Phase 1 would be ready.  The rough draft of the Phase 1 report should be ready near the end of April.  Our current date is Monday, April 19.  Of course, that assumes we stay on schedule with all prerequisite steps. “)
Q:  Will the March meeting invitations be limited to those in the February meetings or open to all interested parties?
A:  In March, we hope to invite back all who were invited to the initial meetings to get the overall groups reactions to what the SOG team is thinking.  While they will not be completely open (it would be much too hard logistically to facilitate an in-depth discussion of criteria and standards with a large group), we are setting up a wiki so that anyone can provide comments at any time.     All comments will be read and are open to response from others.  The SOG team will not overly favor comments of those being able to attend and those commenting via the wiki.  All documents are public record; we wish to be as transparent as possible.
I’d be happy to discuss this in more depth or answer any more questions.  I am cc’ing the SOG team, as I do with all EEP project messages.

Comments (2)


Fortunately, I have never been in prison other than my tour of the Butner federal facility with the Poli Sci 158 class of Dr. Fernandez back at UNC.

However, I have volunteered for many, many, many of these very type of facillitated discussions with concerned “stakeholders” of the state mitigation programs going back to WRP up through the EEP. I can only imagine prison must be something like this.

Not one facillitated stakeholder meeting which I have been a party to has produced a single tangible work product of any utility. I hope that by not participating in this one (as with all fishing and hunting trips I miss) it will be the one with BIG results, the best ever.

Swamp Merchant’s blog is a tour de force on the banality of these meetings and underscores the disconnect between people who are truly engaged on the subject of the EEP and those who are brought in to try and “facillitate” something of which they know little about nor are they especially interested in understanding.

Maybe Richard Whisnant and Bill Holman can inject some steel into the spine of this particular facilliation on EEP. If not, this effort will be the latest casulaty in a long line of failed attempts to re-tool rein in an out of control program that is almost univerally held in low regard by those who know it and is derisively referred to as the Endless Employment Program.

Of course, the end may be nearer than anyone thinks.