2019 Commonwealth Fellow
assists with VMRC agency comments, permitting process

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While conducting ecology research in South Caicos, Kristen Bachand realized that she didn’t want her science to exist in a bubble. She enjoyed the research—in this case, tracking down the source of marine debris from local trash collection sites through the School for Field Studies.

But after completing her master’s degree at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), she wanted to ensure her science helped improve resource management. As a Commonwealth Coastal & Marine Policy Fellow, Bachand will spend the next year at the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) learning more about resource management at the state level.

“That’s pretty much what led me, essentially, to this fellowship,” Bachand said of her Virginia Sea Grant Commonwealth Fellowship. “They’re taking the science from VIMS and using it to figure out how to manage the resources.”

Bachand will help the VMRC’s Habitat Management Division respond to requests for information about possible environmental impacts for development projects. The VMRC frequently issues comment letters on projects that affect natural resources within its jurisdiction, including tidal wetlands, coastal sand dunes, and state-owned subaqueous land.

The streamlined comment process—developed by last year’s Commonwealth Fellow, Lauren Pudvah—solicits comments from staff within the habitat division and archives the comment letters for future reference.

“Kristen’s job will be to take that over and continue that process,” said Tony Watkinson, chief of habitat management for the VMRC. “We get a couple requests per week, sometimes less, sometimes more.”

Bachand will also help the habitat division to develop electronic permitting procedures. Additionally, Bachand will attend agency meetings, participate in site visits, and learn more about the regulatory and permitting processes.

“We recognize it’s as much a learning experience for them—career development—as anything,” Watkinson said. “We ask them to go out to a lot of site inspections and go to as many meetings as possible that we hold with applicants or with other agencies.”

2019 Fellow Kristen Bachand, left, with host office Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s Randy Owen, center, and Chief of Habitat Management Tony Watkinson, right, located on Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., Jul 8, 2019. (Photo by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant)