Agency Procedures for Processing Dredging PermitsGao ID: 115875 July 22, 1981
A GAO review identified common delays and problems in the Corps of Engineers' dredging permit program and recommended ways to improve the process. An underlying reason for processing delays is the sharp increase in the number of laws and federal agencies involved with the dredging permit process. Although current laws emphasize the need to protect valuable resources, they affect timely permit processing. The agencies involved have finalized memorandums of agreement to help reduce commenting time and referral procedures for resolving agency differences. However, the success of these agreements will depend on the spirit of cooperation among the agencies and the ease with which time extensions and referrals are obtained. The Corps also encountered considerable delay during final processing. It is unrealistic to expect a large decrease in permit processing time without a major change in the process. The Corps has taken several steps to increase the timeliness in processing. However, its overall success is difficult to determine. Interagency coordination has been reported as being highly successful among the other agencies involved. Proposed legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Army to decide on dredging material disposal sites for maintenance operations, subject to congressional approval. This would limit the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to prohibit disposal of dredged material for environmental reasons. If the Corps determines that the incremental benefits of mitigating conditions do not justify the related cost, the conditions could be omitted from environmental impact statements. These changes could speed navigation improvement projects but reduce consideration of environmental issues. GAO believes that, at a minimum, all major differences between the Corps and EPA should be highlighted in the Secretary's submission to Congress for approval. Under the new legislation, the Corps will be required to complete in 1 year the environmental impact statement work necessary for all projects scheduled in the 5-year program. This will probably not provide time to adequately consider the environmental effects of these projects. The proposed legislation would require agencies to establish memorandums of agreement for interagency review and time periods in which to comment on maintenance projects and navigation improvement projects. GAO endorses these specific timeframes.