Posted on March 2, 2023
A major regulatory burden has been lifted for Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, clearing the way for long-awaited dredging projects that will make it easier for people to use area waterways commercially to support working waterfronts, as well as recreationally.
The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) recently announced that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Norfolk District has granted categorical permission to expedite and streamline the review and final decisions on a series of shallow-draft dredging requests involving federal navigation projects, according to a news release.
The projects are located in 17 creeks and rivers in and around Essex, Gloucester, Mathews, Middlesex, King William, and King and Queen counties.
The authority to grant permission for temporary or permanent use, occupation or alteration of any USACE civil works project is contained in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Alterations are granted under Section 408 of the law if they “will not be injurious to the public interest and will not impair the usefulness of such work.”
Shallow-draft dredge areas can be categorized as primary or secondary (including smaller tributaries and marked and unmarked channels) having a water depth of 14 feet or less. These channels are important maritime highways that have been used by commercial watermen for centuries, according to the MPPDC news release.
According to John Paul Woodley, a principal with Advantus Strategies, a regulatory and government affairs consulting firm and lead consultant for this effort, said getting permission “is an important development for the many recognized and established navigable channels that are pivotal to the use and enjoyment of working waterfronts, docks, marinas and boat yards,” according to the release.
The Middle Peninsula is the first area in Virginia to receive such categorical permission.
“Until now, the process for getting Corps approval of dredging projects has been lengthy and costly, and it has often led to unnecessary delays in permitting,” said Lewie Lawrence, executive director of the MPPDC, in the release. “Getting Section 408 permission is a common-sense solution to the dredging approval problem, and it will benefit localities across the Middle Peninsula and beyond.”
Funding for dredging projects, once approved, will come from localities and other sources, such as the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund, established by the Virginia General Assembly in 2018 for the purpose of supporting shallow-draft dredging projects in rural coastal Virginia.
“The MPPDC is focused on developing innovative programs and solutions to challenges in rural coastal Virginia, working with state legislators and partners such as Advantus Strategies,” the release stated.
“We are excited to have worked closely with the MPPDC to address one of the most pressing waterway management issues in coastal Virginia,” said Robert G. Crockett, president of Advantus Strategies. “We commend the USACE for their decision to extend categorical permission for dredging projects, an important first step in a process that will have a beneficial economic impact across the region.”