US Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Office
Prior to beginning this internship, I had the goal of engaging in an experience that would not only allow me to display my skills, but which also opened up future possibilities. Interning with the US Army Corps of Engineers provided the opportunity for exposure. Not only did I acquire the experience I had been looking for in terms of an “office job” but they had the chance to send a message to others.
Initial Goals and Objectives:
The primary goal of this internship was to bring attention to the US Army Corps of Engineers, to acquire a general idea of the regulatory program, how it functions, what types of permits are required for construction activities in the nation’s waters, and the politics which ultimately shape how regulatory systems protect the nation’s aquatic resources.
Although a culminating project was not proposed, the general internship was meant to provide me with an understanding of how to evaluate permits and ensure the permit is being implemented as presented by the applicant. In the beginning, the idea of a site visit was presented, but unfortunately I never actually did make it out into the field. Not all sites can be visited and often, the Corps has to trust the applicant. The ultimate goal then became to obtain greater awareness of the permit process.
The Walla Walla District specifically works with issuing permits to applicants from the state of Idaho. Working specifically with Duane Mitchell, Linda Thompson, and Donna Hansens, it was the general intent that I would help them out during their busy season while understanding just how much bureaucracy drives the Regulatory Program.
Mission of the Regulatory Program:
The mission of the Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program is to protect the Nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions. The Corps evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in the Nation’s waters. Corps permits are also necessary for any work, including construction and dredging, in the Nation’s navigable waters. During the permit process, the Corps considers the views of other Federal, state and local agencies, interest groups, and the general public. As a result, it became my job to acquire a general understanding of the permit process which incorporated such ideals presented by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Being an intern at the Regulatory Office of the US Army Corps of Engineers has been office based rather than site based as originally intended. Instead of learning to evaluate sites for mitigation, over the course of the semester I have learned about all the paperwork that must go along with such site evaluations. I now have a general understanding about different permits, the requirements for permit approval regarding water and habitat altercations in the state of Idaho which comply with NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service), the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and tribal land owners. Approval from every involved agency or department is crucial to a successful permit.
The expectation was that I would handle much of the secretarial work and set up files and folders for new permits. Originally, the objective of the internship was to grasp the permit process, evaluate an application, and then evaluate a site. Perhaps because of the shortness of my internship and the busy schedules of both myself and Duane Mitchell, I did not make it out into the field. As a result, much of my time was spent learning how to have a desk job. Quickly I came to accept the fact that not finishing all of the work presented to me was acceptable. It would still be sitting there waiting for me the next day. I was expected, and could, spend a fair amount of time on the tasks given to me, reviewing denied and approve applications so long as it got done within 30 days.
The US Army Corps of Engineers uses a program called RAMS, along with GIS, a mapping system, in order to efficiently process applications. RAMS essentially documents each permit and has the capability of generating letters which notify applicants as to the steps necessary for an effective and compliant project. After becoming fairly proficient in RAMS, I ended up drafting letters for applicants, calling about specific projects, and creating new files.
Looking at both Nationwide and Individual permits, it soon became apparent
that although common sense may seem to play a role, a lot of the time it all
comes down to what is written in the text. It may seem ridiculous that someone
is able to build a road through a wetland, but if it happens to fit certain
constraints, then it is perfectly acceptable. It may seem perfectly all right
for a Boy Scout to construct a bridge in a preserved wetland for increased awareness
and accessibility, but none of it may be possible. Everything is done by the
Reflections and Recommendations:
My initial reaction is to say I was somewhat disappointed with my internship. However, after much thought, I have realized that even from those experiences which do not meet your expectations there are benefits. Throughout the entire internship, I realized how truly efficient I can be. As long and arduous as the permit application process may be, it is only that way because of the numbers of permits being processed. A lot of the inefficiency associated with the permit process is a result of lack of funding and personnel. The US Army Corps of Engineers cannot afford to hire any additional people because the federal budget does not allow it, but the Corps desperately needs help in terms of managing the number of permits they approve.
Looking back, I wished I had made more time in my schedule to go out into the field. I had plenty of time in the office for my liking. Knowing what it is like to look at the same application over and over again with only slight variations, I do not think I could do that job without the field aspect. Preserving species, conserving resources, or protecting the environment may seem to be a lot of office and paper work, but there is also a crucial and essential field element.
At first I was frustrated and confused. Duane Mitchell and I would look over permit applications and wonder just how someone could even think that moving rocks around in a stream would not destroy or alter the habitat of organisms. It just did not make any sense. As we talked about various projects, I realized there were just some people out there with blinkers on, not wanting to accept the consequences of their actions. Often, and incorrectly, I figured a permit would not exist that would allow an applicant to put a bulldozer through a river, or for another individual to remover half a ton of rock from a stream for artwork. Sometimes we heard from nearby landowners about projects that were going on, but of which a permit never existed. It dawned on me that the entire process takes awareness. Unless the public is notified or aware of the available permits some individuals will go out and put a bulldozer through a river without ever obtaining a permit. They would be violating federal law. Invariably however, a permit existed and the individual would be able to carry on with their project with certain limitations but they still needed to apply for the permit.
After a while though, I realized that there is only so much that can give to make everyone happy. The US Army Corps of Engineers has to take into account the positions and viewpoints of wildlife management groups, environmentalists, government officials, tribal land owners, surrounding property owners, and all the other involved parties. What seemed like a simple bridge across a river ends up becoming a political statement. Ultimately, the Corps does what it can to try and satisfy every involved member’s requests.
Duane Mitchell, Regulatory Specialist, 509-527-7156
US Army Corps of Engineers
Walla Walla District
201 North 3rd Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
A. Bradley Daly, Chief, Regulatory Branch
US Army Corps of Engineers
Walla Walla Distrcit
201 North 3rd Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362