The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control may hold public hearings (as authorized by 7 Del. Code Chap. 60) regarding permit applications, federally-regulated draft permits, proposed regulations, proposed plans and other pending actions as part of a public comment period. The usual purpose of a public hearing is to receive either written or verbal public comments that may assist the DNREC Secretary in making a final decision on an application or proposal. The public comment period, including the hearing process, is usually for a set time period which is advertised by public notice. The comment period can be extended if deemed necessary.
Most DNREC public hearings are presided over by a department hearing officer who is responsible for the orderly receipt of public comments into the hearing record. The department does not have a legal obligation to conduct the hearing in a trial format for most of its public hearings.
Following the close of the public comment period, the presiding hearing officer often will prepare a report of recommendations based upon the record developed by the hearing process. Should the hearing officer determine that additional information is needed, the officer may rely on a post-hearing investigation and gather information from the department’s experts or from other disclosed sources as part of the record of the recommended decision. Similarly, the Secretary may rely on information in the record beyond the recommendations of the hearing officer as to support his or her final decision in issuing a Secretary's Order.