Federal regulations define “emergency” as a situation that would result in an unacceptable hazard to life, a significant loss of property or an immediate, unforeseen and significant economic hardship if corrective action requiring a permit is not undertaken within a period of time less than the normal time needed to process the permit application under standard procedures.
Due to the April 2014 storms that affected Florida’s Panhandle, the Jacksonville District initiated emergency permitting procedures in response to conditions resulting from these storms.
Clif Payne, chief of the Pensacola permit section said, “The flooding was unprecedented. Six counties were approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.”
Not only was the Regulatory Division busy with emergency permitting during 2014 but for the first time in four years, the division traveled Jacksonville District’s territory, from Florida’s Panhandle to the Antilles, offering full days of information to stakeholders, partners, consultants and the public.
Billed as “Strategies for Success,” each of the open house events featured presentations about endangered species, mitigation, alternatives analysis and indirect effects as well as programmatic overview. Each venue also included a presentation focused on issues relevant to that specific region.
Between June and September, Regulatory team members traveled to Bradenton, Duck Key, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Panama City and Orlando, Florida as well as to San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
In September, more than 250 people – some carrying signs and posters, some wearing shirts expressing their opinions, packed the Charles Turnbull Regional Library well beyond its capacity, to show favor or opposition of an application by Coral World Ocean Park to construct a nearshore dolphin enclosure. The district’s Regulatory Division hosted the public meeting in September to receive comments about the controversial project.
The proposed project at Coral World Ocean Park at Coki Point in St. Thomas includes constructing dolphin pens approximately 300 feet by 200 feet in Water Bay, a two-story “education center” structure adjacent to the shore, and a system on buoys, floats and lines to restrict vessel access. The project would impact 0.32 acres of coral habitat, 0.01 acres of seagrass in Porites rubble, 0.01 acres of hard bottom and 0.02 acres of scattered seagrass and coral.
Project opponents stated environmental impacts to coral, seagrass, marine life and water quality resulting from housing dolphins in the proposed enclosure will degrade Water Bay. Meanwhile proponents for the project advocated economic benefits through increased and enhanced tourism as well as educational benefits through hands-on wildlife encounters.
In recent years, it has been noted that the United States is falling behind in the number of its students who graduate with STEM degrees. A U.S. News and World Report article noted that although billions are spent each year on STEM education, America ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations.
Regulatory team members took an opportunity to visit the Antilles Elementary School at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Team members discussed recycling and elements and principles of design, including line, plane symmetry, rhythm and scale and color.
Additionally, the district’s Regulatory Division issued 613 Individual Permits; verified 2,607 General Permits including 25 emergency permits; completed 2,700 jurisdictional determinations; 275 mitigation site inspections; 32 mitigation bank compliance inspections among a total of 2,379 compliance actions; reviewed 2,390 projects for compliance with their permits; completed 152 enforcement/noncompliance actions; resolved two enforcement litigation cases; investigated 99 additional alleged violations, issued four new mitigation banks for a total of 65 banks and one in-lieu fee program, re-issued one Regional General Permits, and one Programmatic General Permit.