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Mea Culpa: SOG not involved in Fee Program Development

We had a facinating meeting today at the UNC-School of Government.  As Stories predicted yesterday it was a heavily proscribed discussion guided by public policy development and analysis methodology.  But I will elaborate on the dangers of that approach later in a separate post.

For now, a quick fact check is necessary regarding the Swamp Merchant’s claim yesterday that the SOG was involved in the development of the original NC Fee Program. Untrue, as far as Richard Whisnant (now) of the SOG knows and informed me today in an entirely affable manner.   And Richard has reason to know.  He was at DENR as general counsel when the program was first developed in the mid-90’s — not at SOG as I mistakenly believed.

According to Richard, while DENR counsel he did answer some discreet legal questions regarding the program prior to it becoming law.  I think that was the source of my mistake.  Mitigation policy has an informal oral history maintained by the older rats in the barn.  Somewhere in that history it became a relatively unimportant footnote that Richard Whisnant was involved in the formulation of the program — strictly, true. Did SOG and Richard Whisnant have a policy formulation role of the kind I was implying might bias today’s review? Plainly, no.

Richard’s limited involvement with the Fee Program was  previously at DENR, not SOG.  The UNC – School of Government and Richard are looking under the hood of the Fee Program for the first time.

The Swamp Merchant is duly chastened and will work to re-earn what credibility I have lost.  My only solace is my belief that it is not the point of blogs to provide facts — it is the point of blogs to discover them through enhanced communication.  That happened here.  Sometimes being wrong in public will reveal the truth.

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 –

Maureen,
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.