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Sharing lessons for efficient federal permitting

Establishing a positive, cooperative relationship with federal agencies is an essential component of any federal environmental permitting strategy. Relationships provide the foundation for building trust among all stakeholders: private sector, federal, state and local officials, Native American tribes, and others.

On August 31, 2022 at the Trinity River Authority in Arlington, Texas, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion on building and strengthening relationships between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), stakeholders and non-federal sponsors. The National Waterways Conference (NWC) and the Texas Water Conservation Association (TWCA) sponsored this regionally focused, annual event.

During our two-hour discussion, we covered several important topics:

  • Types of permits

  • Why and when permits are needed (or not)

  • Tips on how to make the permit process smoother

  • Examples of issues to avoid in a permit applicant

  • How USACE coordinates with other agencies during the permitting process

As a career Civil Servant, I served more than 35 years in USACE, culminating as the Galveston District Regulatory Chief. Drawing upon my experience, I used the panel as an opportunity to highlight the importance of preparing a comprehensive and complete permit application. Today, largely due to Regulatory program uncertainly and post pandemic impacts, stakeholders more than ever need to appreciate what goes into a permit application and how best to offer their submission to the Corps. Below are a few of the lessons I shared at the conference.

The federal permitting process often requires extensive information within the initial permit application submittal. Examples of information USACE and other federal agencies may require are:

  • State/local approvals requirement

  • Alternatives analysis

  • Measures taken by an applicant to comply with the Section 404 (b)(1) guidelines, and

  • Multiple surveys and determinations potentially including an endangered species report/survey, cultural resource report/survey, a jurisdictional determination, and habitat /wetland assessment

Applications not including the required information will likely experience costly time delays and contribute to an inefficient permitting process. Lengthy scenarios unfold during which USACE requests additional information, the applicant takes time to assess and research the requested information, and USACE takes additional time to review the new information for completeness and suitability.

In addition, applicants should strive to produce quality documents containing all the information required, written as concisely as possible, and organized in a USACE acceptable format. These important skills will create a time savings for both the applicant and USACE. Reviewing the appropriate USACE district website can also provide valuable information about what to include in an application, including instructions on electronic submission.

Finally, applicants should be careful not to piecemeal a project by submitting more than one application to the Corps for a project that is designed to be constructed concurrently with other projects or that together comprise a larger overall project with a larger scope. You can find more about how USACE applies this standard in the USACE Nationwide Permit regulations defining single and complete projects.

Special thanks to panel sponsors NWC and TWCA for all they did to make this Regional Spotlight series a positive engagement for nonfederal sponsors, stakeholders and USACE.

Fred Anthamatten

Senior Advisor

A member of Dawson & Associates since 2013, Fred spent more than 35 years in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District including 7 years as head of the Regulatory Branch and 13 years as head of the Enforcement Section.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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