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.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to shorten permit processing time by: (1) directing Corps district management to report periodically on the time required to issue public notices and require adherence to the 15-day timeframe established by law; (2) establishing criteria for approving time extensions based on the complexity of the issues involved in the applications; and (3) directing district management to report periodically on the time required to issue permits once all public comments are received, and adhere to the 30-day time limit required by Corps regulations or else indicate why the 30-day timeframe should be lengthened. FWS and NMFS should be directed to more clearly delineate areas of review to avoid duplication and enable them to review a larger percentage of total dredging applications. FWS, NMFS, and EPA should be directed to justify, on the basis of the complexity of the issues involved in the applications, all requests for additional time exceeding 30 days to comment on applications.

    Agency Affected:


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