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North Carolina AccessDEQ Hub Streamlines Permitting Process

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality recently integrated an online application feature into its comprehensive digital hub, consolidating records, data, mapping tools and permitting into one location.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has added a new environmental safety tool to its AccessDEQ digital hub, streamlining a complex permitting process for unprecedented efficiencies.

The agency recently added an online Erosion and Sediment Control application for the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources (DEMLR) to the digital hub. The AccessDEQ hub was created with the initial vision of forming a comprehensive, centralized tool to hold online records, data, maps and process applications.

“When I joined DEQ in 2016, most of the regulatory divisions that deal with permitting had individual systems or a combination of systems, and that was just not sustainable,” Department of Environmental Quality CIO Michael Ware explained. “For the new Erosion, Sediment and Control application, users can now fully process applications online to register, apply for a permit, pay for the permit, and track the process from initiation to completion."

This enhancement is expected to significantly benefit both the agency and users, as DEMLR manages an average of 2,500 erosion and sediment control applications annually while overseeing more than 10,000 projects across the state at any given time.

“Before digitizing permitting, we could miss some key pieces of information, which could cause extra back and forth between the department and the applicant, due to missing identification components, for example, and that could take extra time,” Ware shared.

Digitizing the permitting process has introduced several new capabilities for DEMLR, including the ability to ask targeted questions related to the applicant's project, simplifying the navigation process and reducing staff hours spent on applications and response time.

“It really helps the Department of Environmental Quality as a whole having all our comparable data in one system that acts as a database or an enterprise data warehouse,” he described. “We've adopted Microsoft Azure Service Data Services to power this process, providing each department with the ability to visually track permits being processed in each division. They can now see metrics such as the current number of permits and those issued last year, which leads to advancements in analytical capabilities."

If one regional office is slower in processing permits, for example, they can now pinpoint the bottleneck in procedure and expedite the resolution process by reviewing analytics.

“If applications are not being pushed through for some reason in a specific area of the site, our internal dashboard will be able to show that,” Ware said. “One of the best features of the new process is the consolidation of data in a unified platform, providing us with the capability to apply analytics to comprehensive data sets unique to specific divisions.”

Ware knows that security for this type of system is paramount due to the sensitive and regulatory nature of state permitting. For this reason, DEQ uses several services centered on identification verification, including LexisNexis identity proofing.

“Anytime we're dealing with any kind of sensitive information, we're making sure it's processed in the appropriate place and has the appropriate protections,” Ware stated. “We don't retain or house that personal information as an agency, but instead use the services that are available to us that are also on state contract and state approved.”

Overall, the new permitting system brings another layer of protection and convenience to both employees and users — expanding accessibility to residents and ensuring that all state regulatory components are met for the agency in a secure and timely manner.

“We don’t want permits being held up by a business trying to create or build something like a new operating plant or whatever their project might be, but there are a lot of requirements that DEQ has to meet in order for those projects to take shape,” Ware said. “The fact is there's a lot of regulations that we have to follow, and that takes time, and an old paper process would only add on to that timeline.”

Ware envisions that — with the new application now in place — the agency can shift toward a more agile process, where they will closely examine analytics and feedback received to foster continuous improvement.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.