The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District (SWG) hosted a workshop on their regulatory program September 21, 2023.
The event—open to the public—was held at the district’s headquarters and included presentations from SWG regulatory specialists on a variety of topics centering on USACE’s regulatory and permitting programs.
Nicholas Laskowski, SWG’s regulatory chief, and Byron Williams, SWG’s deputy district engineer, welcomed more than 200 guests—consisting of consultants, state agencies, and local media—to the event and provided background on the information being presented.
“There are a lot of people out there who need to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to complete their projects,” said Williams. “They’re just not sure how to go about it. There’s a lot of information out there on our processes, which can be confusing. That’s why our public regulatory workshops are specifically designed to give folks the basic information they need to do business with us, in one place.”
The workshop began with general information about the laws and acts that authorize the USACE Regulatory Program. They are: Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, which requires authorization from the Secretary of the Army, acting through USACE, for the construction of any structure in or over any navigable water of the United States; Sections 301 and 404 of the Clean Water Act, which makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants into waters of the United States without authorization under specific provisions; and Section 103 of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), which governs the disposal of dredged material.
Kristi McMillan, SWG’s evaluation branch chief, then touched on the types of permits available.
USACE issues two types of permits, McMillan said: individual and general. General permits include nationwide, regional, and programmatic permits.
Nationwide general permits are given for activities that will have only minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the environment and issued for a five-year period. Regional general permits are for activities with minimal environmental impacts, and are initiated, researched, and implemented by USACE divisions or districts to address a group of similar activities. Programmatic permits are a type of regional general permit founded on an existing state, local, or federal agency program and designed to avoid duplication with that program. Applications for programmatic permits are made to the agencies which administer them, McMillan clarified.
Individual permits are issued for activities that do not fit the terms and conditions of a general permit, McMillan continued. They include letters of permission (LOP) and standard permits. An LOP is a type of permit issued through an abbreviated processing procedure which includes coordination with the federal and state fish and wildlife agencies—up to 15 days to coordinate—as required by the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and a public interest evaluation. A standard permit is similar to an LOP, however, it also requires full National Environmental Policy Act analysis.
Further presentations included deep dives into Section 103 of the MPRSA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law; and recent proposed species of concern.
Laskowski concluded the workshop with some tips on how to make the permitting process as seamless as possible.
“Early engagements are crucial,” Laskowski said. “Come to the Corps early on pre-application meetings.” This is especially true for projects anywhere on the coast, navigable channel, or flood protection infrastructure. Many of these types of projects have special considerations that could hold up permitting if not addressed early in the application process.
SWG’s regulatory chief also said being responsive—responding to requests within 24 to 48 hours—and remaining transparent in the process remains his goal for the regulatory and permitting process. “We’re going to tell you what we know and what we don’t know. We also want to make sure the communication is clear, whether that’s verbal, written, or email—whatever works best for the customer.”
The Army’s Regulatory Program is one of the oldest in the U.S. federal government. Initially, it served to protect and maintain the navigable capacity of the nation’s waters. Time, changing public needs, evolving policy, case law, and new statutory mandates have changed the complexity of the program. For more information on USACE’s Regulatory Program, visit: https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/.
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