Managerial Changes Needed To Speed Up Processing Permits for Dredging Projects

CED-80-71: Published: Jun 9, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 1980.

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Increased public interest in protecting the Nation's waters over the past 10 years has resulted in additional federal regulations to protect the environment, wildlife, and other valuable resources as well as to provide for navigational needs. Balancing these competing objectives has complicated the process for issuing dredging permits, involving several federal agencies and increasing the time required to process applications. Lengthy processing is costly to applicants, makes planning difficult, and can hinder construction and water transportation. The Army Corps of Engineers' dredging permit program was examined to identify the common delays and the problems which arise in the program.

Although Corps regulations indicate that total processing time for permits should not exceed 3.5 months, the average times for processing at three Corps districts ranged from 4 to 10 months during fiscal year 1979; some were in process more than 2 years. Even for routine, noncontroversial projects, short delays during each step of the permit process culminated in significant delays. Limited staff, coordination requirements, and involvement of various interest groups contributed to the problem. The three Corps districts visited were not issuing notices for public comment within the 15-day limit specified by law and Corps regulations. Frequently, after notices had been issued, the public comment period was extended beyond the 30-day limit recommended by regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) routinely asked for and received time extensions from the Corps without providing proper justification. In lengthy negotiations between the federal agencies and the applicant, the comment period was extended. Regulations require district engineers to prepare a Findings of Fact and either deny aplications or issue permits within 30 days after final public comment and the resolution of all issues and objections. The Corps is not adhering to this limit. Although coordination agreements between the Secretary of the Army and the agencies involved should improve the program, it is too early to tell if they will significantly reduce the processing time.

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