This Public Notice announces the preliminary intent of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District (Corps) to accept and expend funds from the Florida Power & Light Company (FP&L) to expedite processing of their Department of the Army (DA) permit applications subject to certain limitations. This Public Notice also solicits comments from the public on the subject of acceptance and expenditure of funds contributed by FP&L to expedite the evaluation of DA permit applications.
Section 214 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (Section 214) as amended and codified at 33 U.S.C. 2352 provides in part that:
“The Secretary, after public notice, may accept and expend funds contributed by a non-Federal public entity or a public-utility company, natural gas company, or railroad carrier to expedite the evaluation of a permit of that entity, company, or carrier related to a project or activity for a public purpose under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army.”
The Secretary of the Army (Secretary) has delegated the decision to accept and expend funds to the Chief of Engineers and his authorized representatives, including the Commander of the Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The authority to accept and expend funds from public utility companies and natural gas companies expires on June 10, 2024, unless otherwise extended or revoked by law.
Definition of Public Utility Company: The term ‘public utility company’ means an electric utility company or a gas utility company. FP&L meets this definition.
How the Corps Would Expend Funds: The Corps Regulatory Program is funded as a Congressionally-appropriated line item in the annual Federal budget. Additional funds received from FP&L would be used to augment the budget of the Corps in accordance with the provisions of Section 214. The Corps would establish a separate account to track the receipt and expenditure of the funds.
Activities for Which Funds Would be Expended: Funds would be expended primarily on the labor of Regulatory Division staff processing permit applications pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. 403). Such permit processing activities could include but would not be limited to the following: application completeness review, jurisdictional determinations, site visits, preparation of public notices, preparation of correspondence, meetings, consultation with other agencies, public interest review, distribution of public notices, analysis of alternatives, compensatory mitigation proposal review, preparation of environmental assessments, preparation of permit decision documents and permit compliance. Funds may also be expended by other Corps Divisions or to hire contractors to perform select duties such as site visits, technical writing, copying, technical contracting for review of specific items such as biological assessments for endangered species, cultural resource assessment surveys, preparing regional general permits, and other technical documents, including draft environmental documents, at the direction of the Regulatory Division.
If FP&L’s funds are expended and are not renewed, FP&L’s remaining permit applications would be processed like those of any other non-participant, in a manner decided by the assigned Regulatory Division project manager and his or her supervisor.
How Acceptance of Funds is Expected to Expedite the Permit Process: Since the purpose of Section 214 is to expedite the permit review process, a funding agreement is an ideal vehicle to improve the permitting process. The Corps and FP&L believe that two dedicated project managers will be able to develop expertise in the types of projects implemented by FP&L which will improve the efficiency of review. As a result, based on past experience and current volume of FP&L applications, funding two full-time Corps reviewers for FP&L projects will result in an expedited review process for FP&L projects. It will also improve the ability of the Corps and FP&L to coordinate and prioritize review of projects based on project schedules and deadlines. In addition, hiring an additional reviewers for FP&L projects will expedite the review process for non-FP&L applications since Corps project managers that would otherwise be working on FP&L projects will now have additional time to work on other applications.
Procedures to Ensure Impartial Decision Making: To ensure the funds will not impact impartial decision making, the following procedures would be applied:
(a) Funds would not be expended for review of project managers’ work by supervisors or other persons in the decision making chain of command.
(b) All final permit decisions for cases where these funds are used must be reviewed at least one level above the decision maker, unless the decision maker is the District Commander. For example, if the decision maker is the Section Chief, then the decision would be made by the Branch Chief.
(c) Funds from this agreement will not be used for enforcement activities.
(d) Funds from this agreement will not be used for public hearing (e.g. venue fees) and distribution of public notices (e.g. postage).
(e) All final permit decisions for applications where these funds are expended will be made available on the Corps Headquarters’ web page.
(f) The Corps must ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and will not eliminate any procedures or decisions that would otherwise be required for the type of project and permit application under consideration.
Impacts to the Regulatory Program: We do not expect priority review of FP&L’s permit applications to negatively impact the Regulatory Program or to increase the time to evaluate other projects’ permit applications since additional staff may be hired to augment this priority review.
Consideration of Comments: The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, Federal, State and local agencies and officials, and other interested parties. Comments will be made part of the administrative record, and they will be considered in determining whether it would be in the public interest to proceed with this action. If the Jacksonville District Commander determines, after considering public comments, that the acceptance and expenditure of the funds is in compliance with Section 214, the Corps will implement WRDA through a signed memorandum of agreement and accept funds from FP&L. Funds will be accepted only if the public interest is better served through cost-effectiveness, enhanced evaluation capability, streamlined permit application processing, or other appropriate justification. A final public notice will be issued regarding the District Commander’s decision. Beyond that, no new public notice will be issued if FP&L increases the amount of funds previously furnished or extends the duration of the agreement, provided that the purpose remains the same.
Submission of Comments: Interested parties may submit comments concerning this proposal in writing. Comments should be mailed to:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
ATTN: Tori White
701 San Marco Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32207
Alternatively, comments can be sent electronically to: email@example.com.
This public notice has a 15-day comment period. Comments should reach this office not later than the expiration date of this public notice. For additional information please call Tori White of my staff at 904-232-1658. This public notice is issued by the Chief, Regulatory Division.