Regulatory Division is meeting environmental, economic needs

Published Jan. 10, 2014

Protecting the nation’s aquatic resources while simultaneously meeting its economic needs requires dedication and an ability to balance often competing needs. Through the execution of the Department of the Army’s responsibility, authorized under the River and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory program reviews multitudes of proposed projects annually, and either issues or denies permits based on these and other applicable laws. 

“Jacksonville District’s regulatory program is the largest in the Corps, and our team set a high standard by exceeding every national performance goal for the program for the fifth consecutive year,” said Donnie Kinard, chief of the Regulatory Division.

The Corps routinely performs jurisdictional determinations, to determine whether or not a site for a proposed project falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army regulatory program and therefore would require a permit.  More than 2,800 jurisdictional determinations were completed by Jacksonville District during 2013.

Individual Permits are specific to proposed projects, which must also comply with other environmental laws that protect endangered species, marine mammals and cultural resources.

During its review of a permit application, the Corps consults with other regulatory agencies and issues public notices and takes all input received into consideration in its decisions. Last year, Jacksonville District issued 855 Individual Permits and denied one permit with prejudice for a proposed project to dredge 29 acres of seagrass and fill four acres of wetlands.

When a proposed project or action will impact the nation’s aquatic resources, the Corps may require mitigation as a condition of the Department of the Army permit. This is a central premise of federal wetlands programs, and is one way in which the Corps balances decisions to meet both economic and environmental needs. Applicants must first demonstrate that they have made all practicable efforts to avoid impacts; then to minimize impacts and finally to compensate for unavoidable impacts. Most commonly, mitigation involves the creation, enhancement or restoration of wetlands and their functions.  Mitigation banks are wetland areas that have been restored, established, enhanced or preserved and set aside to compensate for future conversions of wetlands for development activities.  In 2013, Jacksonville District completed 94 mitigation site compliance inspections and 17 mitigation bank compliance inspections. Further, it issued three new mitigation banks, for a total of 61 banks in Florida.

Jacksonville District also implemented one in-lieu fee program in 2013, the first in-lieu fee program implemented in the district following the 2008 mitigation rule.  In-lieu fee programs involve the restoration, establishment, enhancement and/or preservation of aquatic resources through funds paid to a governmental or non-profit natural resources management entity to satisfy compensatory mitigation requirements for Department of the Army permits. They are similar to mitigation banks in that they sell compensatory mitigation credits to permittees.

Some minor activities, such as aids to navigation, bank stabilization, aquatic habitat restoration, boat ramp construction, agricultural activities and modifications to existing marinas may be authorized through a General Permit. General Permits are issued on a nationwide or regional basis for projects that are substantially similar in nature and cause only minimal individual or cumulative impacts.  Jacksonville District verified more than 2,400 General Permits and maintains 17 Regional General Permits and nine Programmatic General Permits.

Through its partnering efforts, Jacksonville District expanded a State Programmatic General Permit (SPGP) into the Florida panhandle and improved efficiency of the SPGP by designating Hillsborough County and the St. Johns River Water Management District to administer SPGPs within their areas of responsibility. Additionally, a new Programmatic General Permit was issued to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for “Live Rock and Marine Bivalve Aquaculture” in navigable waters of the United States within Florida territorial waters.

Federal regulations provide authority for the Corps to respond when activities are conducted without required permits (unauthorized) and when activities are not conducted in compliance with the terms and conditions of issued Department of the Army permits (non-compliance). Jacksonville District resolved 84 enforcement and non-compliance cases. Of particular note was the resolution of an enforcement case leading to the protection of Cowbone Marsh, an approximately 5,500-acre freshwater marsh system that acts as a filter for Fisheating Creek and eventually Lake Okeechobee, and the closure of a 2006 Clean Water Act violation case against Century Homebuilders with the receipt of $400,000 in civil penalties plus the purchase of $60,000 in mitigation credits from Everglades National Park.

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 four public meetings, held in Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Valley and Clearwater, Fla. in August and September. The setback guidance was established to provide the criteria by which structures proposed to be constructed along certain federal channels are evaluated.

Four Environmental Impact Statements were completed in the last year, including the Areawide EIS for Continued Phosphate Mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District, the A1 Flow Equalization Basin, Levy Nuclear Plant and the Titan/Tarmac King Road Limestone Mine. The district is further serving as a lead federal agency on one additional EIS for Southern Palm Beach Island Comprehensive Shoreline Stabilization Project in Palm Beach County and as a cooperating agency with Federal Highway Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Federal Railroad Administration, and U.S. Coast Guard on seven additional EISs for various projects.

Regulatory Division team members regularly serve in their communities throughout Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as nationally and internationally. Team members participated in 26 outreach and education events concerning the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act and others. Two notable events included the International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET) in Scottsdale, Ariz. and the 27th Annual Environmental Permitting Summer School at Marco Island, Fla.

Four team members deployed to Afghanistan in support of the Corps’ Overseas Contingency Operations and one served a six-month assignment in the Pentagon office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

Jacksonville District was honored in 2013 with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration’s (FHA) National Award for Exemplary Human Environment Initiatives, in recognition of its collaborative efforts on the Dos Hermanos Bridge project, which the FHA reconstructed to address safety and travel needs in an area of Puerto Rico known for its tourist attractions, sensitive environmental habitat and fragile historical and archaeological sites.

Eddie Rivera, Federal Highway Transportation Administration, cited the project as “a model…for other jurisdictions in how preservation of the historical and environmental elements in transportation projects can be achieved.”

“The mission of the regulatory program is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions,” said Kinard. “Florida and Puerto Rico have abundant natural resources that attract economic development. Every team member is dedicated to maintaining the required balance and meeting the needs of the communities we serve – I’m proud of what they have accomplished this year.”