U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

Regulations most recently checked for updates: Jul 19, 2024

§ 320.4 - General policies for evaluating permit applications.

The following policies shall be applicable to the review of all applications for DA permits. Additional policies specifically applicable to certain types of activities are identified in 33 CFR parts 321 through 324.

(a) Public interest review. (1) The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity and its intended use on the public interest. Evaluation of the probable impact which the proposed activity may have on the public interest requires a careful weighing of all those factors which become relevant in each particular case. The benefits which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. The decision whether to authorize a proposal, and if so, the conditions under which it will be allowed to occur, are therefore determined by the outcome of this general balancing process. That decision should reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal must be considered including the cumulative effects thereof: among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. For activities involving 404 discharges, a permit will be denied if the discharge that would be authorized by such permit would not comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's 404(b)(1) guidelines. Subject to the preceding sentence and any other applicable guidelines and criteria (see §§ 320.2 and 320.3), a permit will be granted unless the district engineer determines that it would be contrary to the public interest.

(2) The following general criteria will be considered in the evaluation of every application:

(i) The relative extent of the public and private need for the proposed structure or work:

(ii) Where there are unresolved conflicts as to resource use, the practicability of using reasonable alternative locations and methods to accomplish the objective of the proposed structure or work; and

(iii) The extent and permanence of the beneficial and/or detrimental effects which the proposed structure or work is likely to have on the public and private uses to which the area is suited.

(3) The specific weight of each factor is determined by its importance and relevance to the particular proposal. Accordingly, how important a factor is and how much consideration it deserves will vary with each proposal. A specific factor may be given great weight on one proposal, while it may not be present or as important on another. However, full consideration and appropriate weight will be given to all comments, including those of federal, state, and local agencies, and other experts on matters within their expertise.

(b) Effect on wetlands. (1) Most wetlands constitute a productive and valuable public resource, the unnecessary alteration or destruction of which should be discouraged as contrary to the public interest. For projects to be undertaken or partially or entirely funded by a federal, state, or local agency, additional requirements on wetlands considerations are stated in Executive Order 11990, dated 24 May 1977.

(2) Wetlands considered to perform functions important to the public interest include:

(i) Wetlands which serve significant natural biological functions, including food chain production, general habitat and nesting, spawning, rearing and resting sites for aquatic or land species;

(ii) Wetlands set aside for study of the aquatic environment or as sanctuaries or refuges;

(iii) Wetlands the destruction or alteration of which would affect detrimentally natural drainage characteristics, sedimentation patterns, salinity distribution, flushing characteristics, current patterns, or other environmental characteristics;

(iv) Wetlands which are significant in shielding other areas from wave action, erosion, or storm damage. Such wetlands are often associated with barrier beaches, islands, reefs and bars;

(v) Wetlands which serve as valuable storage areas for storm and flood waters;

(vi) Wetlands which are ground water discharge areas that maintain minimum baseflows important to aquatic resources and those which are prime natural recharge areas;

(vii) Wetlands which serve significant water purification functions; and

(viii) Wetlands which are unique in nature or scarce in quantity to the region or local area.

(3) Although a particular alteration of a wetland may constitute a minor change, the cumulative effect of numerous piecemeal changes can result in a major impairment of wetland resources. Thus, the particular wetland site for which an application is made will be evaluated with the recognition that it may be part of a complete and interrelated wetland area. In addition, the district engineer may undertake, where appropriate, reviews of particular wetland areas in consultation with the Regional Director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the local representative of the Soil Conservation Service of the Department of Agriculture, and the head of the appropriate state agency to assess the cumulative effect of activities in such areas.

(4) No permit will be granted which involves the alteration of wetlands identified as important by paragraph (b)(2) of this section or because of provisions of paragraph (b)(3), of this section unless the district engineer concludes, on the basis of the analysis required in paragraph (a) of this section, that the benefits of the proposed alteration outweigh the damage to the wetlands resource. In evaluating whether a particular discharge activity should be permitted, the district engineer shall apply the section 404(b)(1) guidelines (40 CFR part 230.10(a) (1), (2), (3)).

(5) In addition to the policies expressed in this subpart, the Congressional policy expressed in the Estuary Protection Act, Pub. L. 90-454, and state regulatory laws or programs for classification and protection of wetlands will be considered.

(c) Fish and wildlife. In accordance with the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (paragraph 320.3(e) of this section) district engineers will consult with the Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Regional Director, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the head of the agency responsible for fish and wildlife for the state in which work is to be performed, with a view to the conservation of wildlife resources by prevention of their direct and indirect loss and damage due to the activity proposed in a permit application. The Army will give full consideration to the views of those agencies on fish and wildlife matters in deciding on the issuance, denial, or conditioning of individual or general permits.

(d) Water quality. Applications for permits for activities which may adversely affect the quality of waters of the United States will be evaluated for compliance with applicable effluent limitations and water quality standards, during the construction and subsequent operation of the proposed activity. The evaluation should include the consideration of both point and non-point sources of pollution. It should be noted, however, that the Clean Water Act assigns responsibility for control of non-point sources of pollution to the states. Certification of compliance with applicable effluent limitations and water quality standards required under provisions of section 401 of the Clean Water Act will be considered conclusive with respect to water quality considerations unless the Regional Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), advises of other water quality aspects to be taken into consideration.

(e) Historic, cultural, scenic, and recreational values. Applications for DA permits may involve areas which possess recognized historic, cultural, scenic, conservation, recreational or similar values. Full evaluation of the general public interest requires that due consideration be given to the effect which the proposed structure or activity may have on values such as those associated with wild and scenic rivers, historic properties and National Landmarks, National Rivers, National Wilderness Areas, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, National Lakeshores, National Parks, National Monuments, estuarine and marine sanctuaries, archeological resources, including Indian religious or cultural sites, and such other areas as may be established under federal or state law for similar and related purposes. Recognition of those values is often reflected by state, regional, or local land use classifications, or by similar federal controls or policies. Action on permit applications should, insofar as possible, be consistent with, and avoid significant adverse effects on the values or purposes for which those classifications, controls, or policies were established.

(f) Effects on limits of the territorial sea. Structures or work affecting coastal waters may modify the coast line or base line from which the territorial sea is measured for purposes of the Submerged Lands Act and international law. Generally, the coast line or base line is the line of ordinary low water on the mainland; however, there are exceptions where there are islands or lowtide elevations offshore (the Submerged Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1301(a) and United States v. California, 381 U.S.C. 139 (1965), 382 U.S. 448 (1966)). Applications for structures or work affecting coastal waters will therefore be reviewed specifically to determine whether the coast line or base line might be altered. If it is determined that such a change might occur, coordination with the Attorney General and the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior is required before final action is taken. The district engineer will submit a description of the proposed work and a copy of the plans to the Solicitor, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC 20240, and request his comments concerning the effects of the proposed work on the outer continental rights of the United States. These comments will be included in the administrative record of the application. After completion of standard processing procedures, the record will be forwarded to the Chief of Engineers. The decision on the application will be made by the Secretary of the Army after coordination with the Attorney General.

(g) Consideration of property ownership. Authorization of work or structures by DA does not convey a property right, nor authorize any injury to property or invasion of other rights.

(1) An inherent aspect of property ownership is a right to reasonable private use. However, this right is subject to the rights and interests of the public in the navigable and other waters of the United States, including the federal navigation servitude and federal regulation for environmental protection.

(2) Because a landowner has the general right to protect property from erosion, applications to erect protective structures will usually receive favorable consideration. However, if the protective structure may cause damage to the property of others, adversely affect public health and safety, adversely impact floodplain or wetland values, or otherwise appears contrary to the public interest, the district engineer will so advise the applicant and inform him of possible alternative methods of protecting his property. Such advice will be given in terms of general guidance only so as not to compete with private engineering firms nor require undue use of government resources.

(3) A riparian landowner's general right of access to navigable waters of the United States is subject to the similar rights of access held by nearby riparian landowners and to the general public's right of navigation on the water surface. In the case of proposals which create undue interference with access to, or use of, navigable waters, the authorization will generally be denied.

(4) Where it is found that the work for which a permit is desired is in navigable waters of the United States (see 33 CFR part 329) and may interfere with an authorized federal project, the applicant should be apprised in writing of the fact and of the possibility that a federal project which may be constructed in the vicinity of the proposed work might necessitate its removal or reconstruction. The applicant should also be informed that the United States will in no case be liable for any damage or injury to the structures or work authorized by Sections 9 or 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 or by section 404 of the Clean Water Act which may be caused by, or result from, future operations undertaken by the Government for the conservation or improvement of navigation or for other purposes, and no claims or right to compensation will accrue from any such damage.

(5) Proposed activities in the area of a federal project which exists or is under construction will be evaluated to insure that they are compatible with the purposes of the project.

(6) A DA permit does not convey any property rights, either in real estate or material, or any exclusive privileges. Furthermore, a DA permit does not authorize any injury to property or invasion of rights or any infringement of Federal, state or local laws or regulations. The applicant's signature on an application is an affirmation that the applicant possesses or will possess the requisite property interest to undertake the activity proposed in the application. The district engineer will not enter into disputes but will remind the applicant of the above. The dispute over property ownership will not be a factor in the Corps public interest decision.

(h) Activities affecting coastal zones. Applications for DA permits for activities affecting the coastal zones of those states having a coastal zone management program approved by the Secretary of Commerce will be evaluated with respect to compliance with that program. No permit will be issued to a non-federal applicant until certification has been provided that the proposed activity complies with the coastal zone management program and the appropriate state agency has concurred with the certification or has waived its right to do so. However, a permit may be issued to a non-federal applicant if the Secretary of Commerce, on his own initiative or upon appeal by the applicant, finds that the proposed activity is consistent with the objectives of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 or is otherwise necessary in the interest of national security. Federal agency and Indian tribe applicants for DA permits are responsible for complying with the Coastal Zone Management Act's directives for assuring that their activities directly affecting the coastal zone are consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with approved state coastal zone management programs.

(i) Activities in marine sanctuaries. Applications for DA authorization for activities in a marine sanctuary established by the Secretary of Commerce under authority of section 302 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, as amended, will be evaluated for impact on the marine sanctuary. No permit will be issued until the applicant provides a certification from the Secretary of Commerce that the proposed activity is consistent with the purposes of Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, as amended, and can be carried out within the regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Commerce to control activities within the marine sanctuary.

(j) Other Federal, state, or local requirements. (1) Processing of an application for a DA permit normally will proceed concurrently with the processing of other required Federal, state, and/or local authorizations or certifications. Final action on the DA permit will normally not be delayed pending action by another Federal, state or local agency (See 33 CFR 325.2 (d)(4)). However, where the required Federal, state and/or local authorization and/or certification has been denied for activities which also require a Department of the Army permit before final action has been taken on the Army permit application, the district engineer will, after considering the likelihood of subsequent approval of the other authorization and/or certification and the time and effort remaining to complete processing the Army permit application, either immediately deny the Army permit without prejudice or continue processing the application to a conclusion. If the district engineer continues processing the application, he will conclude by either denying the permit as contrary to the public interest, or denying it without prejudice indicating that except for the other Federal, state or local denial the Army permit could, under appropriate conditions, be issued. Denial without prejudice means that there is no prejudice to the right of the applicant to reinstate processing of the Army permit application if subsequent approval is received from the appropriate Federal, state and/or local agency on a previously denied authorization and/or certification. Even if official certification and/or authorization is not required by state or federal law, but a state, regional, or local agency having jurisdiction or interest over the particular activity comments on the application, due consideration shall be given to those official views as a reflection of local factors of the public interest.

(2) The primary responsibility for determining zoning and land use matters rests with state, local and tribal governments. The district engineer will normally accept decisions by such governments on those matters unless there are significant issues of overriding national importance. Such issues would include but are not necessarily limited to national security, navigation, national economic development, water quality, preservation of special aquatic areas, including wetlands, with significant interstate importance, and national energy needs. Whether a factor has overriding importance will depend on the degree of impact in an individual case.

(3) A proposed activity may result in conflicting comments from several agencies within the same state. Where a state has not designated a single responsible coordinating agency, district engineers will ask the Governor to express his views or to designate one state agency to represent the official state position in the particular case.

(4) In the absence of overriding national factors of the public interest that may be revealed during the evaluation of the permit application, a permit will generally be issued following receipt of a favorable state determination provided the concerns, policies, goals, and requirements as expressed in 33 CFR parts 320-324, and the applicable statutes have been considered and followed: e.g., the National Environmental Policy Act; the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; the Historical and Archeological Preservation Act; the National Historic Preservation Act; the Endangered Species Act; the Coastal Zone Management Act; the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, as amended; the Clean Water Act, the Archeological Resources Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Similarly, a permit will generally be issued for Federal and Federally-authorized activities; another federal agency's determination to proceed is entitled to substantial consideration in the Corps' public interest review.

(5) Where general permits to avoid duplication are not practical, district engineers shall develop joint procedures with those local, state, and other Federal agencies having ongoing permit programs for activities also regulated by the Department of the Army. In such cases, applications for DA permits may be processed jointly with the state or other federal applications to an independent conclusion and decision by the district engineer and the appropriate Federal or state agency. (See 33 CFR 325.2(e).)

(6) The district engineer shall develop operating procedures for establishing official communications with Indian Tribes within the district. The procedures shall provide for appointment of a tribal representative who will receive all pertinent public notices, and respond to such notices with the official tribal position on the proposed activity. This procedure shall apply only to those tribes which accept this option. Any adopted operating procedures shall be distributed by public notice to inform the tribes of this option.

(k) Safety of impoundment structures. To insure that all impoundment structures are designed for safety, non-Federal applicants may be required to demonstrate that the structures comply with established state dam safety criteria or have been designed by qualified persons and, in appropriate cases, that the design has been independently reviewed (and modified as the review would indicate) by similarly qualified persons.

(l) Floodplain management. (1) Floodplains possess significant natural values and carry out numerous functions important to the public interest. These include:

(i) Water resources values (natural moderation of floods, water quality maintenance, and groundwater recharge);

(ii) Living resource values (fish, wildlife, and plant resources);

(iii) Cultural resource values (open space, natural beauty, scientific study, outdoor education, and recreation); and

(iv) Cultivated resource values (agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry).

(2) Although a particular alteration to a floodplain may constitute a minor change, the cumulative impact of such changes may result in a significant degradation of floodplain values and functions and in increased potential for harm to upstream and downstream activities. In accordance with the requirements of Executive Order 11988, district engineers, as part of their public interest review, should avoid to the extent practicable, long and short term significant adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains, as well as the direct and indirect support of floodplain development whenever there is a practicable alternative. For those activities which in the public interest must occur in or impact upon floodplains, the district engineer shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that the impacts of potential flooding on human health, safety, and welfare are minimized, the risks of flood losses are minimized, and, whenever practicable the natural and beneficial values served by floodplains are restored and preserved.

(3) In accordance with Executive Order 11988, the district engineer should avoid authorizing floodplain developments whenever practicable alternatives exist outside the floodplain. If there are no such practicable alternatives, the district engineer shall consider, as a means of mitigation, alternatives within the floodplain which will lessen any significant adverse impact to the floodplain.

(m) Water supply and conservation. Water is an essential resource, basic to human survival, economic growth, and the natural environment. Water conservation requires the efficient use of water resources in all actions which involve the significant use of water or that significantly affect the availability of water for alternative uses including opportunities to reduce demand and improve efficiency in order to minimize new supply requirements. Actions affecting water quantities are subject to Congressional policy as stated in section 101(g) of the Clean Water Act which provides that the authority of states to allocate water quantities shall not be superseded, abrogated, or otherwise impaired.

(n) Energy conservation and development. Energy conservation and development are major national objectives. District engineers will give high priority to the processing of permit actions involving energy projects.

(o) Navigation. (1) Section 11 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 authorized establishment of harbor lines shoreward of which no individual permits were required. Because harbor lines were established on the basis of navigation impacts only, the Corps of Engineers published a regulation on 27 May 1970 (33 CFR 209.150) which declared that permits would thereafter be required for activities shoreward of the harbor lines. Review of applications would be based on a full public interest evaluation and harbor lines would serve as guidance for assessing navigation impacts. Accordingly, activities constructed shoreward of harbor lines prior to 27 May 1970 do not require specific authorization.

(2) The policy of considering harbor lines as guidance for assessing impacts on navigation continues.

(3) Protection of navigation in all navigable waters of the United States continues to be a primary concern of the federal government.

(4) District engineers should protect navigational and anchorage interests in connection with the NPDES program by recommending to EPA or to the state, if the program has been delegated, that a permit be denied unless appropriate conditions can be included to avoid any substantial impairment of navigation and anchorage.

(p) Environmental benefits. Some activities that require Department of the Army permits result in beneficial effects to the quality of the environment. The district engineer will weigh these benefits as well as environmental detriments along with other factors of the public interest.

(q) Economics. When private enterprise makes application for a permit, it will generally be assumed that appropriate economic evaluations have been completed, the proposal is economically viable, and is needed in the market place. However, the district engineer in appropriate cases, may make an independent review of the need for the project from the perspective of the overall public interest. The economic benefits of many projects are important to the local community and contribute to needed improvements in the local economic base, affecting such factors as employment, tax revenues, community cohesion, community services, and property values. Many projects also contribute to the National Economic Development (NED), (i.e., the increase in the net value of the national output of goods and services).

(r) Mitigation. 1 (1) Mitigation is an important aspect of the review and balancing process on many Department of the Army permit applications. Consideration of mitigation will occur throughout the permit application review process and includes avoiding, minimizing, rectifying, reducing, or compensating for resource losses. Losses will be avoided to the extent practicable. Compensation may occur on-site or at an off-site location. Mitigation requirements generally fall into three categories.

1 This is a general statement of mitigation policy which applies to all Corps of Engineers regulatory authorities covered by these regulations (33 CFR parts 320-330). It is not a substitute for the mitigation requirements necessary to ensure that a permit action under section 404 of the Clean Water Act complies with the section 404(b)(1) Guidelines. There is currently an interagency Working Group formed to develop guidance on implementing mitigation requirements of the Guidelines.

(i) Project modifications to minimize adverse project impacts should be discussed with the applicant at pre-application meetings and during application processing. As a result of these discussions and as the district engineer's evaluation proceeds, the district engineer may require minor project modifications. Minor project modifications are those that are considered feasible (cost, constructability, etc.) to the applicant and that, if adopted, will result in a project that generally meets the applicant's purpose and need. Such modifications can include reductions in scope and size; changes in construction methods, materials or timing; and operation and maintenance practices or other similar modifications that reflect a sensitivity to environmental quality within the context of the work proposed. For example, erosion control features could be required on a fill project to reduce sedimentation impacts or a pier could be reoriented to minimize navigational problems even though those projects may satisfy all legal requirements (paragraph (r)(1)(ii) of this section) and the public interest review test (paragraph (r)(1)(iii) of this section) without such modifications.

(ii) Further mitigation measures may be required to satisfy legal requirements. For Section 404 applications, mitigation shall be required to ensure that the project complies with the 404(b)(1) Guidelines. Some mitigation measures are enumerated at 40 CFR 230.70 through 40 CFR 230.77 (Subpart H of the 404(b)(1) Guidelines).

(iii) Mitigation measures in addition to those under paragraphs (r)(1) (i) and (ii) of this section may be required as a result of the public interest review process. (See 33 CFR 325.4(a).) Mitigation should be developed and incorporated within the public interest review process to the extent that the mitigation is found by the district engineer to be reasonable and justified. Only those measures required to ensure that the project is not contrary to the public interest may be required under this subparagraph.

(2) All compensatory mitigation will be for significant resource losses which are specifically identifiable, reasonably likely to occur, and of importance to the human or aquatic environment. Also, all mitigation will be directly related to the impacts of the proposal, appropriate to the scope and degree of those impacts, and reasonably enforceable. District engineers will require all forms of mitigation, including compensatory mitigation, only as provided in paragraphs (r)(1) (i) through (iii) of this section. Additional mitigation may be added at the applicants' request.