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Posted 9/25/2013

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By Nancy J. Sticht

In the interest of navigation safety and waterway accessibility, Regulatory Division rolled out its revised setback guidance for structures placed along certain federal channels at a series of public meetings, held in Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Valley, Fla. in August.

The setback guidance was established to provide the criteria by which structures proposed to be constructed along certain federal channels are evaluated. The guidance applies to federal channels including the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway/Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW/IWW), from the Florida state line to Miami on the east coast of Florida, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway on the west coast of Florida from the Caloosahatchee River to the Anclote River, and the Okeechobee Waterway from the W. P. Franklin Lock west to Punta Rassa and from the St. Lucie Lock east to the intersection with the IWW. 

“We have 280,000 registered vessels in the state of Florida, and thousands of visiting vessels,” said Mark Crosley, pending executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District, local sponsor for the IWW. “The IWW provides $15 billion in economic input, $5 billion in personal wages and 110,000 jobs – without maintaining the waterway, these numbers would be cut in half.”

Shelley Trulock, IWW project manager, explained the process for maintaining the waterway, which has seen a growing number of fixed shoreline structures, including docks, dock pilings, bulkheads, boatlifts and rock revetments, creating potentially dangerous situations.

“On the IWW, dredging is accomplished with a cutter suction dredge rather than a hopper dredge,” said Trulock. “The dredge is propelled forward by spuds at the rear of the dredge, and anchor booms allow the dredge to turn and maneuver. When there are no structures along the waterway, this type of dredge can operate for 115 feet before repositioning; but the closer structures are placed to the edge of the federal channel, the more frequently the dredge has to reposition. It can be as inefficient as dredging only 19 feet before repositioning – the more frequently the dredge must be repositioned, the longer dredging takes and the more it costs.”

Placing structures along federal navigation waterways requires a Department of the Army permit, in accordance with the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Proposed projects must also meet the setback criteria and obtain consent to easement if the structure is to be placed within the federal right-of-way. Basic variance may be granted from 62.5 feet to 100 feet from the near design edge of the federal channel; justification is required to place structures closer than 62.5 feet from the channel.

The current revision supersedes the 1998 setback guidance, expanding terms and definitions, adding a width restriction for structures located less than 62.5 feet from the channel and clarifying how the criteria is applied to existing structures.

“If a property owner has a valid Department of the Army permit for an existing structure, they may repair or replace that structure as long as the basic purpose of the structure does not change,” said Tori White, deputy chief of the Regulatory Division. “Should the use of the structure change, it is subject to the current setback criteria.

“Though the revisions to the setback criteria are relatively minor, they are necessary to ensure that we keep pace with changing conditions on these busy public waterways,” added White.

“Our roadways and railways are operating at capacity,” said Crosley. “Our waterways are the only places that have capacity to support commerce, tourism and recreation, and with vessels increasing in size and number, we need assurance of the width and depth necessary for safe navigation.”

A fourth and final public meeting to discuss the revised setback guidance is scheduled for Sept. 10 in Clearwater.

Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway consent to easement docks dredging federal channels Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Intracoastal Waterway Jacksonville District Okeechobee Waterway permit setback guidance U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE