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Steps Toward a Project

All of our projects originate with a request from a local community for assistance. This initial request is the beginning of a process that could eventually result in construction of a water resources project. The six steps included in Initial Steps below, will initiate the process that results in a reconnaissance investigation. The normal process that results in project completion is shown in order below.

Project Process

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  1. A local community, or some particular element of a community, perceives or experiences a water resources problem that is beyond their ability to solve. Examples of problems are major flooding, and hazardous or inadequate navigation conditions in a harbor or waterway; and/or degraded environmental conditions.
  2. Community representatives, which often may be or include members of the possible sponsoring agency, meet with their local Corps District staff to discuss available forms of help, including Federal programs. Before we can get involved in providing assistance, weneed two types of authority from the Congress: study authority and budget authority. A study authority authorizes the conduct of an investigation into the identified problems. Once a study authority is available, a budget authority to spend Federal funds for the study can be provided in an annual Appropriations Act. In certain cases, we can provide technical assistance or relief through some smaller studies or projects without further Congressional authorization.
  3. If there is no available authority for us to investigate the problem, the community representatives may contact their Congressional delegation to request a study authority.
  4. A member of Congress may then ask the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, or the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, for an authority for the Corps to study the problem. The subcommittees then send a Docket letter to the Corps requesting information about the study area, problems, and potential solutions. If we have previously investigated and reported on water resource problems in the area, the committee may adopt a study resolution to provide the necessary authority to take another look at the area and review the earlier study. If we have not previously investigated problems in the area, legislation containing a study authority is usually required. Your local Corps District staff can show you examples of previous study authorities, and may, upon request, help you draft language that will provide the desired authority.
  5. Once a Congressional study authority is available, the study will be assigned to the local Corps District. The District may then, through the normal Federal budget process, ask for money to conduct the first phase of the study, called the reconnaissance.
  6. # When Federal funds to conduct the reconnaissance study are included in an annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, the local District may begin the Corps study of the community's water resource problems.

The reconnaissance phase is the first step in the planning process. The reconnaissance phase has four basic purposes:

  • To define the water resource problems and opportunities, such as flooding or navigation needs; and identify potential solutions, such as channels or levees;
  • To assess the potential sponsor's level of interest and support for the identified potential solutions;
  • To decide whether planning should proceed into the next feasibility phase based on a preliminary evaluation of Federal interest, economic costs and benefits, and environmental impacts of potential solutions;
  • And, if it should proceed, to estimate the cost and time it will take to complete the feasibility phase.

The reconnaissance phase begins when the local Corps District receives Federal funds to conduct the study, and ends when you and our District Engineer sign the feasibility cost sharing agreement. If, for any number of reasons, further study is not recommended, we will prepare a final report and no further Corps work will be conducted.

The reconnaissance study normally takes about twelve months to complete, but in no case can it take longer than eighteen months. The work and level of detail during this phase is limited by the amount of time available to complete the study. The reconnaissance phase is paid for by the Corps, and no sponsor funds are required.

As indicated in Figure 5, the major documents prepared during the reconnaissance phase are the reconnaissance report, which describes the results of the study; and the feasibility cost sharing agreement, which includes a project study plan (PSP) describing the guidelines, tasks, costs estimate and schedule for the feasibility phase. Key events during the reconnaissance phase are:

  • Begin reconnaissance when the District obligates funds.
  • District Engineer signs reconnaissance report.
  • Reconnaissance Review Conference (RRC). This mandatory conference is to ensure that the report is consistent with current policies and budgetary priorities, prior to release of the report to the public and prior to approval of the reconnaissance report and feasibility cost sharing agreement.
  • You and the District Engineer sign the feasibility cost sharing agreement (if the report is certified to continue into the feasibility phase).

During the reconnaissance phase, we must decide whether there is a Federal interest in solving the identified problem. As a potential cost sharing sponsor at this point, you can help by providing information and expressing opinions needed to define the problem and identify and evaluate solutions. If there is a decision to proceed, you will actively participate with the District in negotiating the project study plan and the feasibility cost sharing agreement.

The feasibility phase is the second and final step in the two-phased planning process for Corps Civil Works projects. The purpose of this phase is to describe and evaluate alternative plans and fully describe a recommended project. The feasibility phase is cost shared equally between us (except for inland navigation projects, which are 100% Federal), and you may provide up to one-half of your share (that is, up to one-quarter of the total study cost) by in-kind services instead of cash.

The feasibility phase begins when the local District receives both your funds and the Federal funds needed to initiate the feasibility study after the feasibility cost sharing agreement has been signed. The phase ends when the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) submits the feasibility report to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). After receiving OMB clearance, the Assistant Secretary submits the report to the Congress for authorization to construct the recommended project. Normally it takes three to four years to produce a feasibility report, followed by review and approval of the report at the Washington level.

Feasibility phase planning is guided by the requirements of the "Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies" (often called the "Principles and Guidelines", or P&G). The Principles and Guidelines define the Federal objective of Corps project planning, which is to contribute to national economic development consistent with protecting the nation's environment, pursuant to national environmental statutes, applicable executive orders, and other Federal planning requirements. The alternative with the greatest net economic benefit, often called the National Economic Development (NED) Plan, must be identified. The selection of a alternative other than the NED Plan (e.g., the locally preferred plan) must be fully documented. The Principles and Guidelines also describe the major steps to be followed in planning, which are:

  • Specify the problems and opportunities which are relevant to the planning setting, and are associated with the Federal objective and specific State and local concerns.
  • Inventory, forecast, and analyze conditions in the area that are relevant to the identified problems and opportunities.
  • Formulate alternative plans that would resolve the identified problems and realize the identified opportunities.
  • Evaluate the economic, environmental, and other effects, both beneficial and adverse, of each alternative plan.
  • Compare alternative plans and their effects.
  • Select a recommended plan based on the comparison of alternative plans until a recommended plan is selected.

This process, which is often called "plan formulation", is repeated, in whole or in part, throughout the feasibility phase.

The major documents prepared during this phase are the feasibility report, which describes the results of the study and the recommended project, and is supported by several technical reports for project engineering, real estate, and other factors; and the project management plan, which describes the project schedule and cost estimate. Key events during the feasibility phase are:

  • Begin feasibility when District receives funds.
  • Feasibility Review Conference (FRC). This mandatory conference is to seek Washington level commitment to the project in order to minimize the potential for significant modification of the remaining studies and the final feasibility report recommendations after the report is submitted for Washington level review.
  • Public review of the draft feasibility report and environmental document (usually an environmental impact statement, EIS).
  • Project management plan approved.
  • District Engineer signs final feasibility report.
  • Division Engineer's public notice issued (pre-construction engineering and design may begin; see below).
  • Final environmental impact statement filed.
  • Chief of Engineers report signed.
  • Feasibility phase ends with ASA(CW) transmittal to Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
  • OMB clearance provided.
  • Assistant Secretary sends report to Congress.
  • Congress authorizes construction of a project.

You must take a very active role in feasibility phase work, for it is during this time that a variety of solutions are investigated and the project takes shape. The project real estate requirements are developed during this phase. A Real Estate Plan (REP) is prepared which includes, among other things, a description of the minimum real property interests (estates and acreage) needed for the project; a determination regarding any facilities which must be relocated; an estimate of the number of displaced persons; a Baseline Cost Estimate for Real Estate including lands and damages, relocation assistance payments, substitute facilities, mapping/surveying, title evidence, administrative costs, and contingencies; and a detailed schedule.

You are encouraged to participate as a member of the study team, and must participate on the study executive committee which oversees study costs, schedules and other aspects of work progress. Decisions made during this phase, including selection of the recommended project, are based in part on your views, and determine what takes place for the rest of a project's life.

The preconstruction engineering and design phase (PED) follows the feasibility study. The purpose of this phase is to complete all of the detailed, technical studies and design needed to begin construction of the project.

The preconstruction engineering and design phase, which usually requires about two years to complete, usually overlaps with the end of the feasibility phase. It begins soon after the Division Engineer's public notice is issued so that technical studies and design may proceed while the Washington-level review of the feasibility report is ongoing. This phase ends with the completion of the first detailed construction drawings and specifications (often called "plans and specs", or P&S).

Preconstruction engineering and design is cost shared between us in the same proportions as the project's construction cost is shared. Usually, we pay for the full cost during the phase, and you will pay your share to us during the first year of construction.

The major documents prepared during this phase are the design memorandum (DM), which includes the results of technical engineering studies and design; the plans and specifications, which are the detailed drawings and instructions for building the project; and the project cooperation agreement (PCA), which describes sponsor and Corps responsibilities for project construction, operation and maintenance.

Key events during the phase are:

  • Begin preconstruction engineering and design (PED) phase when the District receives funds.
  • Update Real Estate Plan (REP).
  • Design memorandum approved (DM).
  • Plans and specifications approved (P&S).
  • Project cooperation agreement (PCA) prepared.

The construction phase brings the project into being. During construction, the features that have been agreed to by the Corps, the sponsor, and other project interests are built and begin to function as needed. Since we do not have our own construction workforce or equipment, we use contractors to actually build a project.

The construction phase begins after the Congress appropriates funds specifically for the initiation of construction and these funds are allotted to the local Corps District. The project cooperation agreement is signed after Congress appropriates funds for construction. This agreement, which is first drafted during the feasibility phase, may be the most important project document from your perspective. Jointly signed by you and the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), the agreement sets forth the partners' responsibilities and commitments for what will be built, cost sharing, real estate acquisitions and relocations, and other factors. You will be very involved in the preparation of this agreement, as well as the planning and engineering that leads to it.

You will be expected to play an active role in real estate activities throughout the project life cycle. However, the timely acquisition of real property interests is critical to the project, since construction cannot begin until this task has been completed, and it is primarily your responsibility. Real estate acquisition begins when we provide you with written descriptions and/or final right-of-way drawings that show the area and estates required for the project and notify you in writing to begin acquisition. The types of real property interests to be acquired will vary from project to project. Usually, fee simple or some type of standardized easement estate is required, and acquisition is by lease, purchase, donation, or condemnation. Formal notification to proceed will occur at the same time as, or soon after, the PCA is signed.

Ordinarily, sponsors acquire any necessary real property interests, however you may request the Corps to acquire them on your behalf. If we elect to perform this service, you will be solely responsible for all costs of the requested services and must provide sufficient funds in advance of our incurring any financial obligation associated with this work. However, you are ultimately responsible for acquiring the necessary real estate, seeking assistance when needed, and seeing to it that all legal requirements are met. In either case, title to real property interests is normally retained by the sponsor. The time required for real estate acquisition varies from project to project depending upon the acreage, number of tracts and ownerships, and experience and capability of sponsors. Advertisement of the construction contract may proceed when we certify that you have obtained adequate real property interests. You typically need only provide the Corps with authorization for entry and proof that you have sufficient interest in the necessary lands. In addition you will be responsible for:

  • Preparing surveys, maps and legal descriptions.
  • Performing individual tract appraisals.
  • Obtaining title evidence and performing curative work.
  • Conduct of negotiations and eminent domain proceedings.
  • Providing relocation assistance services and processing relocation assistance claims and appeals by displaced persons.
  • Performing or ensuring the performance of relocations of utilities and public facilities.
  • Submitting lands, easements, rights-of-way, relocations, and disposal areas (LERRD)s credit requests for approval and documenting same.

Construction work at the project site begins soon after the PCA is approved and executed, the real estate is acquired, and a contract is awarded. The job of building the project may take several years to complete if the project consists of large or complex structures, such as a dam. Smaller projects, such as short stretches of channels, can often be finished in much less time. Construction is considered to be complete when the project has been inspected and accepted from the contractor, and it is turned over to you for use, usually including operation and maintenance.

The cost to build a project is shared between the Corps and the sponsor in accordance with the requirements of various Federal laws, especially the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. Different cost sharing requirements apply to projects with different purposes. These requirements are discussed in detail in the next section of this document.

The focus of construction activities is at the project site; and includes activities like earthmoving, concrete placing, seeding and planting, and other activities. Two major documents are also prepared during this phase: the construction contract(s), which is the agreement between the Corps and the contractor(s) about how the project will be built, and the project operation and maintenance (O&M) manual, which is the instructions for you to follow for project use after construction is finished. Some projects require several contracts and manuals. Key construction events are:

  • Construction funds are appropriated.
  • PCA approved and executed.
  • Construction contract advertised.
  • Construction contract awarded.
  • Various project-specific construction events, such as: land clearing, rock placement, fill placement on embankment, and test of water release gates.
  • Operation and maintenance manual approved.
  • Construction completed.
  • Project accepted and transferred to you.
  • As construction proceeds, you should be actively involved with us in reviewing contract documents, and monitoring fiscal and physical progress as work is conducted. You must also work very closely with us in reviewing the operation and maintenance manual to ensure that it reflects your needs and limitations, and that it is easily understood and helpful to its future users.

Once a Corps Civil Works project is built, it is usually turned over to the sponsor for ongoing operation and maintenance including repair, rehabilitation, and major replacement. During this phase, all of the activities needed to make the project work are conducted. These activities range from day-to-day maintenance, such as trash removal, to long-term or less frequent jobs, such as repairing access roads. It also includes final certification of necessary real estate for operation and maintenance. Unlike most other projects, navigation projects are usually maintained by the Corps.

Your responsibility for project operation and maintenance begins when the project is turned over following construction, and continues indefinitely. You must pay for all operation and maintenance costs, except for navigation and fish and wildlife enhancement projects where we have some responsibility for funding. Your Project Manager can explain funding requirements for work following construction.

During this phase, the community will realize the full benefits of the project, and responsibility passes from us to you. Our involvement after construction normally will consist of periodic routine inspections to ensure that the project is being properly maintained and is functioning as intended. In certain circumstances, such as if there is a need to correct a design or construction deficiency, we may return to the project to restudy a situation or to take additional action.