District furloughs employees as USACE suspends regulatory operations nationwide

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District
Story by Mark Haviland

Date: 10.15.2013
Posted: 10.15.2013 12:38
News ID: 115165

NORFOLK, Va. - The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, furloughed 48 employees and closed regulatory offices throughout Virginia Oct. 15 as USACE shut down regulatory operations nationwide.

In Virginia, USACE regulators operating from the Norfolk headquarters and from field and home offices throughout Virginia, cover 42,767 square miles and complete an average of 5,000 actions each year.

All of the furloughed employees are environmental scientists and administrative support staff assigned to the Norfolk District’s Regulatory Branch, said Kimberly Prisco-Baggett, acting chief of the branch.

Regulatory offices will be unable to evaluate individual permit applications, pre-construction notifications for nationwide permit or regional general permit authorizations, or requests for jurisdictional determinations until after current-year funding is received and the offices reopen.

“We will stop work on more than 650 pending actions," Prisco-Baggett said.

Limited prior year funding allowed the employees to continue working following government furloughs that began Oct. 1, but those funds have been expended, said Tom Walker, acting chief of the district’s Water Resources Division.

Should an emergency activity need to be conducted in waters or wetlands that requires a Department of the Army authorization under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and/or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, applicants should call (757) 201-7601.

Those applying for nationwide permit authorizations are reminded that proposed activities that require pre-construction notifications must wait 45 days before beginning the activity (see 33 CFR 330.1(e)).

Certain nationwide permit pre-construction notifications require a written response from USACE before beginning the nationwide permit activity. More information about nationwide permit information can be found here: www.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/RegulatoryProgramandPermits/NationwidePermits.aspx

Prospective applicants should ensure proposed activities comply with all nationwide permit terms and conditions, including regional conditions. They must also obtain other required authorizations, such as Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification or waiver if the proposed activity involves a discharge into waters of the United States, or Coastal Zone Management Act consistency concurrence or waiver if the proposed activity occurs in the coastal zone, prior to conducting NWP activities.

Regional conditions that have been imposed on the 2012 NWPs are provided online here: www.nao.usace.army.mil/Portals/31/docs/regulatory/nationwidepermits/NAO_2012_NWP_REGIONAL_CONDITIONS.pdf

The Department of the Army’s Regulatory Programs is one of the oldest environmental programs in the United States. The program implements Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and seeks to avoid, minimize or mitigate the impacts on aquatic resources from the more than 90,000 construction projects undertaken each year across the country.

In Virginia, USACE regulators operating from the Norfolk headquarters and from field and home offices throughout Virginia, cover 42,767 square miles and complete an average of 5,000 actions each year, Prisco-Baggett said.

The 650 pending actions put on hold by the Norfolk District furloughs include individual permit actions for the state’s Route 460 project, the Commonwealth Crossing business center in Martinsburg, Va., and Dominion Virginia Power’s Skiffes Creek Powerline project. Other activities impacted include several new residential housing and commercial developments, road projects and surface coal mining operations.

When employees return, their established priorities are: permits, wetland delineation confirmations, pre-applications, performing delineations, and mitigation bank approvals. Within those priority areas, actions will be worked in the order received, Prisco-Baggett said.

Since the lapse in federal appropriations and subsequent government shutdown Oct. 1, Norfolk District employees have been exempted from furloughs to perform operations related to life, safety and water control management, or exempted where multi-year, non-expiring funds were available.

One district employee, an Army intern furloughed Oct. 1, was recalled to work Oct. 7 under an exception of the Pay Our Military Act.

As prior year funds are expended, Norfolk District may furlough additional employees and shut down non-excepted activities until Congress passes a new continuing resolution or enacts an appropriations bill.