Which Take Longer in Massachusetts, Permit Renewals or Permit Appeals?

An adjudicatory hearing decision issued by MassDEP in September just came to my attention. The decision in the case, In the Matter of Town of Plymouth, is worth reading for those of you interested in the emerging issues related to concerns over nutrients and how nutrient discharges will be regulated in groundwater or surface water discharge permits.

What caught me eye about the decision, however, wasn’t its substance, but was instead its procedural history. The Town of Plymouth first obtained a permit for the groundwater discharge from its municipal wastewater treatment plant in 2000. The Eel River Watershed Association appealed that permit. (For my out-of-state readers, such permits are appealed administratively in Massachusetts.) Dispositive motions were filed in 2003 – but were never acted on.

Although the Recommended Final Decision by the hearing officer (which was adopted by the MassDEP Commissioner) doesn’t provide the entire history, one assumes that Plymouth timely filed a renewal application before the permit’s 2005 expiration date. It took MassDEP until 2008 to issue a permit renewal – at which time the dispositive motions in the appeal of the 2000 permit were still pending.

Not surprisingly, the Town of Plymouth and MassDEP filed motions to dismiss the appeal of the 2000 permit as moot, once the new permit was in effect. Equally unsurprisingly, those motions were granted. To give MassDEP its due, it has worked hard in recent years to shorten the time needed to resolve adjudicatory appeals. It is noteworthy that MassDEP issued the decision dismissing the appeal of the 2008 permit within two years. Nonetheless, it is sort of chilling that the resolution of a permit appeal can extend beyond the life of the permit being challenged.

Justice delayed is…, oh, never mind.





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