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Thread: Interested in potential switch to Environmental Planning

  1. #1
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    Interested in potential switch to Environmental Planning

    I have about 12 years of experience in local govt planning and my current job title is Planner II. I have primarily spent that time reviewing site and subdivision plans for compliance with LDO/UDO, building permits for architectural compliance, site inspections to ensure that what was built was approved, etc. I have become less interested in my job in recent years and am interested in a change. With only 12 years in, I can't imagine myself doing the same thing for the rest of my career. I am 41 now and if I am to make a move I feel like it would be in my benefit to do so soon because when you get older, there is age discrimination that plays a part in the workplace.

    I have been thinking about making a move toward the environmental side of planning since, in the past I had the opportunity to dabble in environmental compliance by helping to draft a riparian buffer text amendment and I also did some field training in stream buffer delineation and low impact development. I think I might enjoy a position that deals with environmental compliance/planning and have been looking around at opportunities for employment and also training to get up to speed. I was approved for AICP so I hope to take the exam this spring but I came to Planning from a background in Landscape Architecture so I am not a traditionally trained planner, I have just learned on the job.

    Some questions I have for the group:

    Most of the environmental planning opportunities I have seen tend to be in private sector vs. local government. Have any of you working in environmental planning also found that to be the case or have you been able to carve out a niche for yourselves in local government. I have seen opportunities to work for the state in Environmental Planning type positions but due to the current political environment those types of departments have received a lot of cuts and the pay and stability is not great.

    I am not against seeking an opportunity in private sector but, having been in local government for so long, it is something to consider since I would be giving up the benefits and stability. Have any of you made a similar jump and, if so, were you glad that you did?

    Most of the environmental compliance/planning/specialist type jobs I have seen want experience with NEPA and SEPA. Are their training courses/certification courses that can help with that or do you just have to find someone who will train you on the job?

    I have seen a job that is more of an entry level that I believe that I could easily qualify for but it is more of a working in the field position who performs stream delineations, etc. I have considered applying but I am not sure if I should basically start over in a lower level position and try to work myself upwards at this point in my career or try to work toward making a change while in my current role by getting the AICP certification first and then trying to get some additional training/certification on the environmental side so that I could make more of a lateral move.

    There is an environmental assessment certification program at my local university that costs about 5-6K that I could potentially do and also a master's program that costs around 12K but requires 22 hours of coursework and no thesis. I am not against investing in myself and/or my career at this point if it make sense to do so but I am still paying on loans from grad school so I would like to minimize my outlay if possible.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I'm just a regular planner, but the only public jobs I've really seen are things like water quality/research at the state or federal level. Just who I work with more often. I don't think they do a lot of NEPA. I'm not sure how to get that first NEPA experience without getting something a little more entry level public or private. Good luck.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I don't know where in MidAtlantic you are, but MS4 is hopping here. Municipalities are hiring environmental folks to fulfill MS4 requirements. It's usually rolled in with other duties, but it could be a good start for someone.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I learned environmental planning at my first job, working as a planner in an landscape architecture firm. AICP requires a basic understanding of environmental planning, and you already have a background doing current planning. A lot of the work comes from assessing impacts from proposed development, including land uses, right-of-way, hazardous sites, preservation, etc. Based on your past experience, I would recommend an online certification in environmental planning to pad your resume. Just my two thoughts.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  5. #5
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    Thanks! I was doing a little more digging online and it seems like there are online training resources for NEPA that focus on the process and documentation. I wonder if that might be enough for me vs. doing a certificate which doesn't really focus on the technical skill that employers seem to be looking for. It is much less costly than the certificate program. Do you all think that might be enough to provide some familiarity?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    In many places environmental planning is mostly environmental site assessments and NEPA work.

    Suggest an ASTM course (https://www.astm.org/TRAIN/filtrexx4...&utm_campaign=) and a some sort of NEPA course available through your State DOT.

    Those will be a good start but things will get more complicated as you start to delve into wetland, floodplain, etc. issues.

    The vast majority of the environmental professionals I know have no formal education on environmental processes, they just picked it up as they went along...usually because their private sector employer stuck them in that role.

    I would also suggest reaching out to a any private sector firms that do this work in the area and seeing if anyone is looking for any help. They might be willing to train you.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I agree, it's mostly technical writing following specific agency requirements for documentation. I took a class through the Shipley Group on "Clear Writing for NEPA". It was 2-3 days of training with a small group of 6, although all of us had previous experience.

    The other route was a DIY approach to EISs/EIAs but only if you have previous training and experience. Years ago, I wrote a full EIS myself for a state DOT road realignment (a huge no-no) when my planning supervisor at the time forgot to contract out work to specialists (also a big no-no). I bought some books online and taught myself the other parts of the documentation. At the time, I had 5 years of NEPA project experience working on the planning side. As an AICP planner (who was also the state ethics officer/PDO at the time) I made disclosure on the EIS that I was working beyond my qualifications as a planner and that the report may not be correct. Ethically, I did the right thing. Personally, my boss was an idiot and should have contracted my work to an environmental consultant.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  8. #8
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    Thanks! Are you all aware of any online courses?

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