How important is community engagement in construction or remediation projects?

Including the local community in construction or remediation projects is extremely beneficial for all involved and can result in acceptance versus opposition. Although this may not always be a regulatory requirement or even considered to be “critical” to a project’s success, often times this type of proactive inclusion can result in time and money saved, and reduced liability.

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Environmental remediation at a Langan project

Most individuals are curious about ongoing construction projects that are taking place in their own (or neighboring) towns and they wonder about the rationale or ultimate purpose of the project, yet they rarely have any information. Individuals potentially impacted by remediation projects have greater concerns and fears.  The lack of knowledge frequently raises questions, doubts, or even cynicism about the project, especially if the project causes inconveniences that disrupt their daily routines, such as commuting or even being able to send a child out to play.  On the other hand, if the impacted community has the facts about the nature of the project, and understands the benefits or risks to their families, friends, and lifestyle they are less likely to be frustrated and confrontational.  For these reasons, any type of proactive information sharing and allowing residents to feel included in major project stages is of key importance to project management success. Additionally, proactively sharing information (possibly in the form of a fact sheet) also allows the party conducting the work control of the message and can dispel concerns.

Gaining greater project acceptance, and more importantly, obtaining the least community resistance, is your goal. This can only happen by voluntarily sharing information. While it is important to do so with the general public, it is equally, if not more, important to include community leaders – both elected and those who are simply well known and trusted civic leaders. Communication may occur formally (newspapers, planning committee meetings) or informally (social media, social gatherings). Taking steps to proactively educate supporters and opponents will help garner support for your project.

The key components to be communicated include, but are not limited to:

  • The nature of the final project, such as new stores, office buildings, a park or housing
  • The reason for the project, the ultimate purpose/rationale
  • The temporary impacts of construction regarding inconveniences, detours, delays, etc.
  • Permanent changes beyond the construction phase including land use/loss and transportation issues such as roadway changes, traffic, noise
  • Benefits such as increased jobs, easier access to stores, better housing, a cleaner environment, increased revenues and improved transportation
  • The most critical component of community relations is allowing for open discussions, and truly listening to concerns as every community has different needs and issues
  • Ultimately providing feedback on a timely basis, and incorporating appropriate components of their recommendations into a final project

By building strong relationships within your project’s community and easing concerns, the project team can save time, money, unwanted bad press, reduce liability, and pave the way for future successful projects in neighboring communities.

About Irene S. Kropp, Senior Environmental Consultant 
A universally respected leader in the New Jersey environmental community, Irene Kropp brings 30 years of regulatory, technical, administrative, and management experience in all areas of environmental protection to Langan’s environmental practice. Prior to joining Langan, Kropp served as the Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, she managed multiple offices in the NJDEP including Water Resources, Compliance and Enforcement, Information Resources Management, Management and Budget, and Science and Site Remediation. She has worked closely with other state agencies, the legislature, local governments, the USEPA, other state environmental agencies, developers, corporations, and many New Jersey business and industry associations.

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