Page 30 - BusinessWest April 28, 2021
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think clients recognized the likelihood of reduc- tions in inspections at the start of the shutdown order, but they were cautioned, at least by me, that inspections were likely to come back,” he said.
Myhrum, who also serves on the Westmass board, agreed with the other roundtable partici- pants that various stakeholders in the develop- ment process, from developers to inspectors
to municipal officials, handled the transition
to remote operations remarkably well. And he believes the construction and development sec- tor is on the rise after an unusual year.
“Yes, construction was deemed essential, but behind that are a lot of support organizations, and things necessarily slowed down,” he said. “And that has created a lot of potential energy for when things return to some semblance of normal. Beyond that, it has been something of a brave new world, but the adaptability to remote work has been striking.”
Holding Pattern
The most distressing pandemic-driven change in Gorski’s job is “the inability to collab- orate on certain projects, to sit around a table and push those plans back and forth,” he said, adding that his agency and others have come up with some innovative ways to collaborate remotely. “We’ve become more productive in some ways. And there are some efficiencies with working from home. But we do miss out on the ability to build off collaborative ideas.”
Myhrum agreed. “Screen sharing cannot sub- stitute for a 24-by-36, or larger, exhibit in terms of communicating ideas and demonstrating evidence of what one wants to do. It’s essential
to not only understanding what a project is, but also building the trust that’s necessary among the parties to reach a goal together. I believe col- laborative efforts within the office are very, very important.”
Some ways business was done in the past won’t completely return, he added, like the idea of people flying to and from California to attend a 15-minute pre-trial conference. “That’s gone; everything is done remotely, through Zoom or Teams or other platforms.”
But to undertake truly effective negotia- tions and other business, he went on, in-per- son meetings need to remain an important component.
Everyone figured out the new normal together, Gorski said, and that included the DEP. “We were very lenient during the first couple months, recognizing that companies were under a tremendous burden in terms of staff- ing. Once they figured out how to do things remotely, we started getting back into a normal program.
“Now, while we’re certainly not normalized, our inspection numbers here in the Western Region are on par with past years,” he added. “Some of the enforcement penalty numbers were down as well — we were careful how we adjusted penalties because of COVID — but that’s getting back to normal, too.”
Daley noted that any slowdown in regula- tory activity was matched by a curtailment of development. “Everyone was trying to figure things out in the first month or two; I don’t think anyone was trying to move projects forward at a rapid pace. It all played in concert; environmen- tal programs were moving forward at the same
pace developments were with COVID.” Sullivan said it was natural for the pace of activity to slow down as the logistics became
difficult. She noted that her firm performs many environmental site assessments, doing due diligence about what a project’s environmental concerns may be, which requires communica- tion with fire departments, boards of health,
“They were backing off enforcement a little bit, but it was unofficial. Some of it wasn’t clearly communicated.”
and other municipal departments. “A lot of those were closed for a while, the process would get delayed, and that would, in essence, delay the whole project.”
Reviews on the regulatory side slowed
down locally as well, she said, but grace peri- ods became the norm. “They were backing off enforcement a little bit, but it was unofficial. Some of it wasn’t clearly communicated, partic- ularly in the first eight to 12 weeks, and we won- dered when things would start up again.”
No one was surprised when it did, Myhrum said. “Massachusetts certainly has a reputa- tion for sound and aggressive environmental enforcement, as well as rigorous regulation, which has gone hand in glove with statutory
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