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How to Save Your Project From Permitting Delays

by Transect Team, on Aug 3, 2021

Environmental regulations apply to everyone and can affect any project site, but they don't have to be a deal killer. Knowing exactly what environmental issues are on your site, understanding survey requirements, and anticipating permit timelines is key to ensuring project goals are met.

Take SpaceX as an example. When they decided the location for their launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas, it appears only 3.3 acres of wetlands were proposed to be impacted as part of construction, per their original Clean Water Act permit. Then, in 2015, SpaceX requested to fill an additional 2.2 acres of wetlands. Now, SpaceX wants to fill in an additional 17 acres of wetlands near the launch pad. This latest proposed expansion has drawn pushback from environmentalists because of the uncertainties that it could have on Gulf currents, nesting sea turtles, or other wildlife in the area.


Because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the SpaceX site, the project has experienced substantial delays while working through federal approvals. First is the matter of wetland mitigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, regulates dredge and fill in waters of the U.S., which includes wetlands, and requires compensatory mitigation (i.e. no net loss of water resources) for most major projects. SpaceX proposed several land transfers to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as their form of mitigation. The transfer was supposed to be completed prior to construction kickoff. However, following 18 months of effort to complete the complex transaction with USFWS and months of construction delays, SpaceX had to ask the USACE to modify the mitigation plan entirely to transfer the land to a different public agency.

Along with this, SpaceX has had to delay the test mission for their Starship rocket scheduled for this July due to the need for additional FAA environmental reviews to ensure SpaceX is not harming wildlife around the South Texas launch pad.

We hate seeing projects delayed by unexpected environmental concerns that pop up on their site. There shouldn’t be an ultimatum between a quicker timeline and project success.

That's why we made sure you can do all of the necessary environmental due diligence upfront, saving you time, money, and unnecessary headaches.

Let's consider where SpaceX could have found the information they needed to help avoid their current permitting delays.

Identify environmental red flags as early as possible with Reports

There are several environmental red flags on the Boca Chica launch facility site. First, since SpaceX wanted to send rockets into space, the whole project is federally regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which triggers environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA process is an extensive, often years-long process. While NEPA review would be required no matter where the project is located, avoidance and minimization of environmental impacts is absolutely key to minimizing the NEPA timeline.

One of those key environmental impacts on the Boca Chica SpaceX facility is wetlands, which make up much of the land the facility sits on  Wetlands are regulated by the Clean Water Act and require extensive permitting and mitigation to be completed prior to construction.. Again, for a complicated project like this, minimizing impacts to environmentally sensitive resources like wetlands  is key to overall project success.

With Transect, users can generate an environmental risk analysis in minutes, enabling them to rapidly determine whether or not the site is feasible from an environmental perspective. Our Reports feature presents environmental data such as endangered species, critical habitats, waters and wetlands, soils, and protected areas along with easy-to-understand concern levels for those site characteristics, a site-specific permit matrix, avoidance recommendations, and next steps.

A tool like Reports would have allowed SpaceX to anticipate and plan for their extensive post-development hiccups far in advance, while getting them to space on schedule

Easily avoid sensitive environmental areas with Vision + Site Selection

Would SpaceX's Boca Chica launchpad location still be ideal if they knew all the roadblocks that came along with it early on? Urgent development timelines or other project pressures often mean that developers are securing properties before truly understanding the environmental implications because the traditional way to conduct environmental due diligence (with hourly consulting) is slow and expensive.

Prospecting for qualified land doesn't have to be as complex or time-consuming as it has been in the past. Our mapping tool, Vision, allows users to generate and focus on a qualified shortlist of sites while also exploring key environmental characteristics of the land by viewing various layers of environmental data. In addition, Vision also features a site selection tool that enables users to dynamically refine and filter parcels that meet their specific development needs to fine-tune their opportunity areas

While SpaceX may have the resources to adapt to permitting delays on their current project site, a tool like Vision + Site Selection could have saved them a significant amount of time and money by allowing them to consider other sites that still fit their necessary criteria but minimized their permitting and mitigation burden.

Situations like the one SpaceX currently faces are not uncommon. A key takeaway from stories like these is that what's good for the environment is also good for business. The permitting process doesn't have to be a hurdle in your project, and with Transect, you can make sure it’s not. We know that identifying environmental risk and understanding how to navigate the permitting and timeline implications is key to project success. We are here to help you get to space- not get stuck in puddles on the way there.

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