What Are Some Permitting Pitfalls?

by | Jun 18, 2023 | Liability Risks, Project Management, Topics | 0 comments

Permitting involves the Consultant assisting the Client in obtaining permission from a regulatory agency to construct a project.  Of the three main causes of schedule disruption, underground utilities discovered late in the process, unexpected geotechnical conditions, and permitting, permitting is the only one that can be dealt with proactively.  Prior planning can mitigate many of the problems associated with having permits in place when they are needed.  Consideration of the following can expedite the process:

  1. Avoid accepting responsibility for obtaining permits and licenses other than those required for the Consultant’s practice.  Permits are normally issued to Clients or construction contractors based on applications prepared by the Consultant or the contractor’s engineer.  The role of the Consultant should be to assist the permit holder in obtaining the permits, but should not include obtaining the permits, a process that is not under the control of the Consultant.
  2. The level of effort needed in assisting the Client in obtaining permits is very difficult to estimate.  Regulations governing permits frequently change during the design period, as do permitting agency staff that reviews and passes judgment on the permit application.  Accordingly, permitting activities should not be included in basic services but rather in additional services for which compensation is based on some type of “time and materials” method. 
  3. Clients frequently want a “not to exceed” amount associated with permits.  This requires that the specific permits that are included be identified in the “not to exceed” amount.  Build adequate contingency into the estimating for the “not to exceed” amount.
  4. The permitting process frequently requires meetings with the permitting agency.  The number of meetings and the specific Consultant’s staff that will be in attendance should be documented as being part of the “not to exceed” amount.  If additional meetings or Consultant staff are required, an increase in the “not to exceed” amount is warranted.
  5. During preparation and review of permits and even after permits are approved and issued, changes in permitting requirements, new permits, and changes in regulatory agency regulations or staff may occur.  These changes should be specifically excluded from the scope of work and thus not included in the “not to exceed” amount.  If these changes occur, the Consultant is entitled to a commensurate increase in the “not to exceed” amount.
  6. Avoid agreeing to pay permit fees and later being reimbursed by the Client.  Notify the Client of the exact name of the payee and amount and request that the Client provide the check.  Plan ahead with plenty of notice to the Client for the check.
  7. The Consultant’s receiving its fee should not be contingent on the permits being obtained.

Assisting the Client in obtaining permits is almost always more difficult than can be anticipated in advance.  Careful definition of scope and budget will help in controlling this process.

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Lowe Consulting, LLC
John M. Lowe, Jr., P.E.
Happy Valley, OR