DEP LAUNCHES OFFICE OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION
(10/P103) TRENTON - As part of its commitment to customer service, the Department of Environmental Protection has launched an Office of Dispute Resolution to help find common ground between the Department and the regulated community to prevent differences from becoming full-blown legal battles.
"The Office of Dispute Resolution will play a key role in achieving our goal of breaking down the barriers that have often existed between the DEP and businesses, individuals and local governments," Commissioner Bob Martin said. "This office will head off potentially costly and lengthy litigation that may not have been needed had both sides simply met first to work out their differences. In finding common ground, however, we will not compromise protection of the environment."
DEP decisions regarding permits or enforcement actions often trigger appeals, usually in the form of a request for a hearing by the Office of Administrative Law. The time between filing of an appeal and the case being heard in court is often frustratingly slow, and may hinder good projects as well as implementation of actions to protect the environment.
"This process often breeds contention," said Commissioner Martin. "We need to change this mindset and look for solutions right out of the gate."
Dispute resolution is a common practice used in both the private and public sectors to mediate solutions to potentially difficult disputes. While the DEP's new Office of Dispute Resolution will not be able to mediate every type of case, it will be able to help in many areas, including water and land use permit and compliance issues, penalty assessments and alleged failures to comply with permit conditions.
The office cannot mediate challenges to DEP rules, regulations or policies, nor can it mediate disputes between private parties.
The office is headed by Tina Layre, a 24-year DEP veteran who has worked extensively on site remediation settlement agreements, cost-recovery cases, enforcement issues and cases involving bankruptcies. She will serve as an impartial mediator between the regulated community and the relevant DEP program.
"I am looking forward to this new challenge, and pledge to work hard at building the lines of communication that are so important for New Jersey to move forward," Layre said.
The creation of this office is the latest in a series of sweeping moves launched by Commissioner Martin to transform the DEP into an agency that works with the public that it serves by placing emphasis on customer service and prompt response.
To this end, Commissioner Martin has brought on board a management team that is focused on customer service, including Chief of Staff Magdalena Padilla, Chief Advisor Ray Cantor and Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp.
Deputy Commissioner Kropp is spearheading the DEP's cultural transformation by implementing Vision and Priorities plans that stress transparency, customer service and stakeholder participation in the decision-making process as core components of the DEP's mission.
The DEP has also created an Office of Permit Coordination and Environmental Review to help applicants navigate the often complex regulatory process.
"For too long, environmental protection has been viewed as a roadblock to economic growth," Commissioner Martin said. "All of these steps will allow strong environmental protection to serve as a catalyst for growth. The creation of the Office of Dispute Resolution is an important step in that direction."
For more information on the Office of Dispute Resolution, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/odr/. To read the DEP's Vision and Priorities plans, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/commissioner/vision.pdf and http://www.nj.gov/dep/commissioner/priorities.pdf