Commonwealth fellow helps agency comment on environmental impacts

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Developing a new apartment complex or designing a coastal hospital builds a stronger Commonwealth for all. However, these major projects sometimes impact critical waterways and wetlands. Virginia Sea Grant’s Commonwealth Coastal & Marine Policy Fellow, Lauren Pudvah, is working to ensure that these construction projects’ potential environmental impacts are documented and addressed.

As a Commonwealth fellow at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Pudvah writes and organizes the agency’s official statements about how projects might influence the natural resources under its jurisdiction: state-owned submerged lands, tidal wetlands, sand dunes, and beaches. The VMRC is often asked to comment on potential impacts for Virginia’s fisheries and the habitats those fisheries depend on before a project begins.

Even though comment letters have long been issued by the VMRC, letters lacked a consistent template and process—agency representatives wrote email responses as projects popped up, but had no way to organize them or refer back to previous letters for projects like recurrent dredging.

As a Commonwealth fellow, Pudvah reads reports, researches the project, drafts the initial letter, and collaborates with the Habitat Management Division’s environmental engineers to ensure the comment letter is accurate.

 

 

“We’ve developed a better system, I think, for collaborating internally to get comments out that we think are more meaningful to the agencies and organizations that might be using that information to make resource management decisions at the front end,” says Tony Watkinson, chief of the Habitat Management Division at the VMRC and Pudvah’s supervisor. “Many of these projects require permits, and if we can identify issues and problems early on, then I think we’ve gone a long way to solving some of the permit problems at the end of the day.”

Pudvah has already helped write more than 100 comment letters, coordinating with other agency workers and categorizing each letter in a database for future reference. In the process, Pudvah’s work has given her a hands-on familiarity with state policy—an experience Pudvah was looking for after completing her master’s in public policy from William & Mary earlier this year.

 

parallax background
Pudvah writes and organizes the agency’s official statements about how projects might influence the natural resources under its jurisdiction: state-owned submerged lands, tidal wetlands, sand dunes, and beaches.

“My degree was pretty general, so I've been able to get that marine and environment-specific part of policy and implementation during this whole year,” Pudvah says. “It's helpful to learn broad policy stuff, but it's also important to know how it works for your state to really be effective as an implementer of regulations.”

Written by Madeleine Jepsen | Virginia Sea Grant

Video and photos by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

TAKEAWAYS

  • Pudvah’s commonwealth fellowship at the VMRC has given her hands-on experience with state policy for natural resources, while also helping the agency improve its internal procedures.
  • Pudvah has streamlined the production for the agency’s comment letters, which indicate how projects might impact natural resources like submerged aquatic vegetation, certain fish, and wetlands.
  • The Commonwealth Coastal & Marine Policy Fellowship places recent graduates at non-governmental organizations and local and state government agencies, giving them experience with resource management at the state level.

  • As a Commonwealth fellow, Pudvah reads reports, researches the project, drafts the initial letter, and collaborates with the Habitat Management Division’s environmental engineers to ensure the comment letter is accurate.
    parallax background
     
    “It's helpful to learn broad policy stuff, but it's also important to know how it works for your state to really be effective as an implementer of regulations.” Pudvah says.

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