CONCORD, Mass. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District is proposing to suspend the existing general permits in each of the six New England states and issue the New England General Permit (NE GP) to authorize certain activities that require Department of Army permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.
The NE GP would authorize activities in waters of the U.S. within the boundaries of and/or off the coasts of the six New England states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine), including activities occurring within the boundaries of Indian tribal lands that have no more than minimal adverse effects on the aquatic environment. The NE GP would be issued in accordance with Corps regulations at 33 CFR 320-332. A public notice was issued with a 45-day comment period.
The Corps’ New England District is re-examining its Regulatory Program’s business practices to ensure that they maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness while complying with Federal laws and regulations. As part of this effort, the New England District is evaluating its long-established General Permit (GP) program.
When the GPs were first used in New England in the early 1990s, they provided the Corps with significant efficiency in the New England states, allowing a more streamlined review of minor projects under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. At that time, it made sense to have a separate GP in each state as there were vast differences in the state programs and priorities. Over time, however, both the Corps Regulatory program and state wetland programs have evolved and the Corps believes it now makes sense to develop a regional general permit that will continue to maintain a high level of environmental protection while allowing the Corps to streamline processes in New England, reduce regulatory redundancy, ensure consistent compliance with national policy, and alleviate a significant administrative burden for its staff, which currently must reissue each of the six state GPs every five years.
This also would facilitate permit review by partner tribal nations and agencies, be more user-friendly for the regulated public, especially those working in multiple states, and encourage consistency in wetlands and waterway regulation in New England while allowing for flexibility in establishing special conditions, thresholds, and processes that are important to each individual state.
The Corps in New England does not believe that the proposed NE GP will result in significant substantive changes to how activities in waters of the U.S. are regulated in the New England states. The NE GP looks quite different from the existing GPs; however, it organizes eligible work into activity-specific categories. This is intended to satisfy the requirements of Section 404(e) of the Clean Water Act, which allows the Corps to issue general permits for activities that are similar in nature and will cause only minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. Identifying specific activities also will allow the Corps to adequately assess cumulative impacts of permitted activities, as well as fully assess impacts on threatened and endangered species.
Alternatives to managing projects that result in no more than minimal impacts instead of issuing the NE GP include: keeping the six state general permits; reinstating the Corps Nationwide Permits (NWPs), which may be viewed at http://www.usace.army.mil/Portals/2/docs/civilworks/nwp/2012/NWP2012_corrections_21-sep-2012.pdf; or issuing a series of general permits, each covering a more narrowly defined category of work, either alone or in conjunction with reinstated NWPs.
General Permits are encouraged under the Clean Water Act as a way to streamline state and Federal regulatory programs. The New England District has already had success with streamlining these programs with the use of GPs in New England. General permits have been in place since 1990 in Connecticut, 1983 in Maine, 1993 in Massachusetts, 1992 in New Hampshire, 1997 in Rhode Island, and 1997 in Vermont.
The public notice with the proposed New England General Permit (NAE 2013-00714) can be reviewed on the Corps website at: http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. The direct link is
Public comments on this proposal should be submitted no later than July 29, 2013 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Regulatory Division (ATTN: Greg Penta), 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751. Additional information is available from Permit Project Manager Greg Penta at 978-318-8862 or toll free 800-343-4789 or 800-362-4367 (if calling from within Massachusetts) or by email to email@example.com.