USACE Galveston District proposes changes to GIWW permit setback policy; seeks public input

Published May 30, 2013
GALVESTON, Texas (May 30, 2013) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District is seeking public input on proposed changes to its permit setback policy along the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway to specifically address the oversight of construction of structures and /or fill permits along the GIWW to increase safety and preserve the ability to maintain the waterway.  

A setback is the distance that a structure must be “set back” from the edge of the channel to ensure there are no encroachments in the navigable channel to support safe transportation and maintain sufficient clearance for dredging the channel. 

“With increased development along the GIWW, it is imperative that we develop a predictable and repeatable policy for authorizing structures along the GIWW to maintain the compatibility of these important functions,” said Col. Christopher Sallese, USACE Galveston District commander. “To do this, we established setbacks from the GIWW channel where structures could be placed without interfering with navigation on the GIWW and identified areas of concern where a heightened permit evaluation was necessary.”

Sallese stated that the proposed policy is not designed with the intent to dissuade or impede construction along the GIWW outside of the established setbacks and that the district will not be issuing letters of non-compliance to any structure constructed inside the setback that are in compliance with an authorized permit (permitted prior to these proposed changes). 

More than $25 billion worth of goods are transported annually along the Texas portion of the GIWW, which is also used by many as an access point to navigable waters for both commercial and recreation purposes.

According to Capt. Derek Thornton, an operations manager in the Navigation Branch for the USACE Galveston District, these proposed setback policy changes are necessary in order to ensure safe navigation. He also added that staff will continue to regulate the distance that marine structures can be constructed in the vicinity of the authorized channel and analyze known navigational hazardous locations along the GIWW in order to maintain navigation safety.

“The infrastructure for these commercial and recreational uses, as you can imagine, can adversely impact vital commercial navigation if they are not assured to be compatible with the congressionally authorized purpose of the GIWW,” said Thornton. “Our proposed changes would require USACE permit applicants to acquire authorization to construct along their private land in the GIWW without impacting navigation along this important waterway.”

Working with federal and state partner agencies as well as the commercial towing industry, the district identified five areas of navigation concern to include bends, bridges, mooring facilities, waterfront structural congestion/encroachment areas and land encroachments.

“The technology at the district has advanced to the point where we can visually depict the channel framework of the GIWW using public mapping programs like Google Earth,” said Thornton. “Being able to visually depict the channel in readily available formats for the public provides us the opportunity to depict the setback of the channel in relation to the proposed private structures and provides a greater layer of transparency to our regulatory permitting policy along the GIWW.”  

The district’s GIS technology will be used to add visibility of the setback by creating a downloadable overlay on the district's website that will show where the setbacks are located with respect to the authorized channel along the GIWW and is expected to be available by summer 2013. 

The public is encouraged to participate in the public comment process (ending June 15) to provide feedback regarding the proposed policy changes The proposed Commander's Policy Memorandum provides general policy and guidance for Department of the Army permits along the GIWW and can be viewed in its entirety at

For more information about the district’s permitting process, visit For news and information, visit Find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter,

Release no. 13-033