Government photo About This Report

This section on open and effective government discusses key changes in 1999 to open the workings of the Department and to invite feedback on our efforts to continuously improve our performance. The Environmental Results section that follows includes chapters on Department results in improving air and water quality, creating livable communities, managing natural resources to keep ecosystems healthy, building natural resources based industries, providing accessible open space and recreation and working side by side with community residents to improve conditions throughout watershed regions. The report concludes with acknowledgements of the many people and organizations who are making our mutual goal for a clean, green and prospering Rhode Island a reality.

The Department will carry out its mission and achieve its goals with involvement and support of citizens and stakeholders, and to that end will improve its accountability, responsiveness, and service delivery.

Open and Effective Governement

The Department took many steps in 1999 to refocus on high priority issues and environmental results and to bring them to the public in clear and accessible formats. The reform initiative stresses accountability - for how tax dollars are spent, for specific improvements in Department performance, for ambitious but achievable environmental quality goals, and for providing the public with a means to evaluate the Department's performance. With new leadership, increased staffing, and a commitment to improved performance, DEM is making strides to improve its work in the following critical areas.

The foundation of DEM's reform is our WorkPlan 2000 /2001 and the 4th Performance Partnership Agreement with USEPA. The Work Plan was developed to respond to concerns about the Department's performance, to become more results-oriented, and to prioritize Department activities and use of limited resources. Meetings were held around the state to solicit input. The PPA was the first to cover a two-year period and the first to consolidate thirteen EPA-funded programs into one grant for flexibility in targeting priority issues.

It was also the first time EPA prepared a companion work plan of commitments for the work toward state goals. Work Plan 2000-2001 is organized around the seven broad goals in this report and reflects national and regional trends, such as pollution prevention, watershed management, and critical resource protection. Most importantly, the Department now conducts quarterly evaluations of progress toward meeting the environmental indicators and performance measures, in Work Plan 2000-2001.

While DEM programs are still adjusting to the new approach, a review of the first two quarters showed that 94% of Department activities were either on track or were at too early a stage to assess. Only 6% were listed as needing modifications. The majority of those were related to vacancies or other unforeseen circumstances. The Department will strengthen the work plan process in 2000 through a Professional Development Review to help managers monitor staff progress and improve staff capacity in meeting work plan goals and objectives.

Access and Responsiveness In 1999, the Department established new lines of communication with stakeholders and citizens, provided better access to information and services, and responded more effectively to customer needs and concerns. Central to the Department's progress was the appointment of an ombudsman - the only position of its kind in state government - to resolve customer problems promptly and to conduct independent investigations. The Ombudsman was on the job for the last month covered by this report. In that time he worked with the Director to produce the Department's Ombudsman Policy, which can be seen on the DEM website http://www.dem.state.ri.us/org/ombuds.html. He also helped plan the third quarter Environmental Roundtable and the Business Roundtable meetings. The ombudsman also analyzes organizational weaknesses, develops recommendations for improvement, and works with staff to develop ways to streamline permitting processes, evaluate and track performance, and improve customer assistance.

The Department began quarterly roundtable meetings with members of the business and environmental communities to solicit feedback on Department plans and performance. The Department also participated in a number of groups to solve environmental problems. New groups and committees in 1999 included: the Central Landfill Management Action Committee to address odor and erosion problems at the landfill in Johnston; and stakeholder committees on port operations in Galillee and in Newport.

Among other steps to improve customer service, the Department gave boat-owners the chance to renew registrations early at the February 1999 boat show in Providence. DEM registered 402 boats at the 1999 show. The Department's improved website now includes downloadable forms to reserve campsites and cabins at state parks as well as the complete Department Work Plan and PPA.

Regulatory streamlining
The Department designed computer specifications and benchmarked DEM's proposed system against other large computerization projects. The Department will obtain equipment and phase the regulatory programs into the system by early 2001. The system will allow precise tracking and faster processing of permit applications. Customers will be able to download application forms from the web.

Simpler methods cut permit process time
DEM continued to simplify permit processes. For example, the Department issued a general permit to speed remediation of sites contaminated with No. 2 home heating oil. Last year a similar procedure for gasoline-contaminated sites cut processing time by more than 30 days. The Department also reduced the time to process air pollution control permits for minor generators from six months to three or four months, and the time for boat registrations from six weeks in 1995 to one in 1999. The wetlands permitting program reduced the backlog of preliminary determination applications from 37 to 16, and reduced the average processing time from 54 to 40 days.

Since 1998, the Department has licensed private designers to produce septic system designs and witness installations subject to DEM oversight. To avoid disruption, DEM extended permits issued under the old system until the end of September 2001. In 1999 the Department offered the first licensing exam for soil evaluators. DEM worked with the University of Rhode Island to make soil courses available and to develop a special course on applying soil science to siting and designing septic systems. Proposed regulations set standards and procedures for soil evaluation as the basis for designing septic systems. This will allow site suitability determinations to be made throughout the year on most sites. Beginning in January 2001, licensed soil evaluators must evaluate soil to identify conditions that affect ISDS design. A new ISDS permit tracking system has been aligned with the Wetlands and Compliance systems, allowing quicker responses. The Department will continue to streamline all major permitting programs.

The Department also joined with the Economic Development Corporation and many other state agencies in BusinessFirst, a voluntary partnership to simplify state procedures for businesses. Immediate aims of the partnership are to establish a data base, provide timely responses to inquiries and to set up a single website to provide information for businesses.

Fair and Effective Enforcement
In 1999 The Department took measures to address complaints about field inspections and to increase the effectiveness of enforcement. Draft Inspection Guidelines balancing the need for regulatory inspections with the need to respect private property, will be finalized as part of a comprehensive enforcement policy. Other elements of the policy are earlier notice to responsible parties when the Department has evidence of violations, so that they can be remedied more quickly; and more consistency in procedures, from timelines to penalty calculations.

The Department also prepared to reinstitute mediation this spring to resolve enforcement disputes more quickly and at lower cost. The Department will continue to enhance enforcement in 2000 with the development of standard operating procedures and customer service training to ensure that enforcement actions are carried out consistently. The hazardous waste program increased formal enforcement actions from two in Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 1998 (October 1997 to September 1998) to twenty in FFY 1999, resolved over 80 percent of outstanding enforcement cases, and received praise from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Department received 4,846 complaints in 1999. Most (2,640) related to air compliance and 87% of the air complaints relate to odors. DEM also responded to 735 emergency calls. The third largest area of complaints encompasses freshwater wetlands (695), septic systems (ISDS) (392), water pollution (198), solid waste (170), and hazardous waste (16). The office carried out 2,795 complaint investigations and 4,028 inspections. Complaints received outnumber complaint investigations because multiple complaints are often received for the same incident. The office issued 441 informal enforcement actions, most of which were resolved without resorting to formal enforcement.

Watershed Approach to Environmental Protection
The Department is also moving toward more efficient use of resources and more effective environmental protection by organizing environmental protection efforts around watersheds. Focusing efforts at the watershed level rather than isolated water bodies or stream segments not only encourages creative, comprehensive solutions tailored to local needs and conditions, but leverages scarce resources through partnerships among governments, non-profits and businesses. For more information on the results for the South County watersheds and the Woonasquatucket watershed, see the watershed chapter of this report.