Removing sedimentation to ensure that a water channel is deep enough for all types of ships and boats to pass through is an integral part of U.S. commerce. This work has been going on for centuries, and, previously, without much interest in the long-term environmental impact. Modern concerns about how dredging affects the environment and the risks to aquatic species when you dredge have spurred a flurry of laws and regulations.
Currently, any company or individual who wants to dredge must obtain a permit. These are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the company seeking the permit is required to follow the stipulations set forth in the Federal Clean Water Act and Amendments. The specific criteria for these permits are stated in Sections 404(b) and 401(a). In the past, the Corps was governed by Section 10 of the River and Harbor Act of 1899, and some of the modern criteria have holdover from that older law.
The goal of these permits and laws is to protect wildlife habitat and water quality. These laws apply to any dredging that may occur in “Waters of the United States,” which are defined as any body of water that could be used or are used by interstate or foreign travelers for the purpose of recreation. These include any flowing stream or contiguous wetland. In some cases, state governments have interpreted these regulations in their own way, and they may require separate permits before a company can dredge.
Under the regulations, dredged material includes both the sediment that is removed by the actual process and any overflow that comes from a material disposal site. If a company violates the laws that govern dredged materials, they can face criminal and civil penalties. The states may also impose their own penalties for violations of the law.
Since every state could have different requirements when it comes to their dredge permitting practices, it's a good idea to understand what these laws and requirements are. This can be done by talking to the Corps or the state agency in charge of dredge permitting. Commonly, these permits are referred to a Section 404 permits.
In most states, the Corp has given Section 404 permit jurisdiction to a state agency. In these cases, obtaining one of these permits can be accomplished by filling out a Joint Permit Application form. These can be obtained from Corps district offices or online.
When filling out the forms, know how much material will be dredged, where the disposal site is located and the condition of the site, the names and addresses of landowners that are nearby, and if there are any anticipated environmental impacts. If there is a suspicion that the sediment has been contaminated, the Corps may require testing before the sediment can be removed. This will determine if there will be any impacts on the water quality or surrounding environment.
It's possible that detailed sketches of the work that will be done will need to be included with the permits. This may include cross sections showing before and after water depths as well as the proposed site conditions. If there are any water control structures or levees proposed, these will need to be included as well.
Surveys will also be required to show the depth of the area, which will explain why the area needs to be dredged. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, the project manager from the dredge company can fill out the permit application or an experienced engineering company might have to take over the task.
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