News: Managing the permitting process
Story by Sean McBride
CHARLESTON, S.C. - When one thinks of historic rice fields, images of vast expanses of wetlands full of waterfowl, shore birds, and other wildlife often come to mind. When one thinks of the regulatory permitting process, a lengthy and complicated issue often comes to mind. The Charleston District hopes to change the latter with the recent issuance of the Managed Tidal Impoundment General Permit.
Until recently, maintenance and repair activities could only be authorized by Nationwide Permits or Individual Department of the Army permits, which were used to authorize any maintenance and repair activities.
In addition, no permit was available that could be applied for and issued almost immediately in an emergency situation. The limited permitting options were often problematic for landowners and managers.
In order to address these issues, the Charleston District looked for a way to expedite the process. With input from other agencies, an idea to create a general permit was put into effect.
A general permit would not only authorize routine and normal maintenance and repair activities, as well as emergency repairs, but would also create an efficient and transparent permitting process for the public.
In September 2010, during a public seminar on regulatory procedures for activities in managed tidal impoundments held at Nemours Plantation, resource agencies, landowners, managers, environmental consultants, biologists, and other members of the managed tidal impoundment community requested that the Corps develop a general permit that would specifically address routine and normal maintenance and repair activities, as well as certain emergency repairs.
The Corps recognized that in order to develop a general permit that would adequately address these types of activities, those knowledgeable in management of managed tidal impoundments should be involved in the development process.
Soon after, the Corps held the first general permit development workshop and invited representatives from Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, landowners, managers, biologists, and environmental consultants to participate. The participants became known as the “Advisory Committee.” The Advisory Committee was instrumental in providing the Corps with invaluable information to develop the general permit.
“Once the need was identified, the Corps brought together a diverse group of environmental professionals to objectively evaluate and formulate the General Permit,” said Mark Purcell, Wildlife Refuge Manager of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge and a member of the Advisory Committee. “From the start, this interagency approach emphasized partnership and that was the key to success.”
The development of the Managed Tidal Impoundment General Permit was a true partnership that involved the public and resource agencies in an advisory capacity. The Managed Tidal Impoundment General Permit, which was issued on July 10, 2012, is available on our website at http://www.sac.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PermittingProcess.aspx
Preserving the rice fields also preserves a part of South Carolina history as well as local wildlife. The historic rice fields in coastal South Carolina are generally centered near the ACE Basin area along the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers, and the Georgetown area along the PeeDee, Black and Santee Rivers.
While rice production in South Carolina originally began in the uplands, rice production moved to freshwater swamps in the early 1700s and eventually to tidal areas by the end of the Revolutionary War.
To facilitate rice production in tidal waters, embankments with water control structures, known as trunks and spillways, were used to impound tidal waters thereby allowing for management of water levels for rice production.
By the early 1900s, wealthy northerners began purchasing the rice fields and plantations. Instead of growing rice, their intention was to manage the rice fields to attract waterfowl for hunting.
Today, many of these historic rice fields are still maintained and managed as habitat for waterfowl, shore birds, and other wildlife.