Feds: Fix flood damage by the book
The good news for governments, businesses and private landowners is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working frantically to make sure that both emergency and nonemergency flood-damage repairs can go forward. The corps gets involved whenever there is placement or removal of any material from a U.S. waterway, which may affect literally thousands of people looking to replace lost bridges, driveways or sections of roads.
“Section 404 comes into play whenever you have placement of fill materials – that would be rock, soil, concrete, including if you have to build new bridge abutments down in the stream. This is why we’re so busy,” said Kiel Downing, state program manager for the corps’ regulatory program in Colorado. “Really if they are doing any repair work in streams or other waterways, I would recommend that they call this office.
“The good news is over 70 percent of our requests have been returned within two days,” Downing said. “It won’t take very long provided they give us good information to go on.”
So far, Downing’s state regulatory office, which reorganized employees to help with the flood situation, has not been hit by the federal government’s semi-shutdown because there was enough carryover money in the corps’ budget to sustain the agency through at least Oct. 12. Downing said he wasn’t sure they would be exempt past that point, but there is hope that will be the case.
There has also been a large amount of confusion, even with municipalities and large-scale water users, about what post-flood projects will need permits that are required under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Downing said a press statement the corps released on Sept. 13 had many people thinking that the Section 404 rules had been suspended, which they have not.
What the Corps did was reauthorize a general regional permit from 1996 for flood-related activities. For flood-damaged properties, that regional permit now allows much of the repair and reconstruction of existing roads, bridge embankment repair, protection or repair of utility structures, bank protection and stabilization and protection and restoration of intake structures.
Together with the nationwide permitting in place, that means much of the flood damage will not have to go through a public hearing process, because applicants will be able to utilize an existing permit, Downing said. But the corps still has to review each of the projects to authorize that it falls within the confines of the existing permits, and it’s a lot better to err on the side of making sure.
Fines for disregarding Section 404 requirements usually are more onerous for repeat offenders, but even a first-time offense can become regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which makes things a lot more difficult.
“It makes a lot of sense to just go ahead and call the corps if there is any question,” said Dave Bennetts, who manages the Design, Construction and Maintenance program of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, which includes most of the core metropolitan area. “We’ve really had good experiences working with them (especially since the flooding); they’ve gotten everything back really quickly.”
Bennetts said the district still is helping the more than 40 municipal governments it assists work through the damage, and he said it is very difficult to even roughly estimate the number of Section 404 permits that may be necessary.
“The only thing we know is it’s going to be a lot,” he said.
Where new permits may become necessary is where streams have changed course, or extensive damage to roads and bridges make more dramatic changes necessary.
A good example of that is Boulder Creek at 75th Street, where the stream has changed its course. The county wants to move the stream back into its old banks both because of the recent road improvements and the recent wetland habitat improvements, said Dave Webster, the county’s water resource engineer.
The St. Vrain River had even more dramatic stream channel shifting, from Lyons through Longmont, so that may also prove problematic, including new 404 permitting and aquatic resource evaluation. But these areas probably will be addressed by experts in 404 permitting, such as those at the drainage district.
“With much of the roadwork, we will be creating permits that address longer stretches of stream,” Bennetts said. “Private landowners will for the most part be dealing with very specific areas.”
For most of these permits, the corps needs some fairly simple information, such as the exact location, map, name of the affected waterway and diagrams (birds-eye and cross-section) of the structure and waterway and estimates of how much fill will be placed in the stream.
But when things get more difficult, it could be best to bring in a seasoned professional, because both Boulder and Boulder County are looking to the urban drainage district for help in planning flood-recovery program and permit requirements. Downing encouraged landowners with even simple projects to contact the corps before engaging a contractor.
Webster said the county has reduced local fees and site-design reviews needed to re-establish structures lost in the flooding, and people working to get the ball rolling should be looking at permitting, including that overseen by the corps, at the same time they get finances pulled together.
“There’s really no reason to just sit on your hands,” he said.
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