Environmental Agencies

Army Corps of Engineers – A Difficult Process?

Over the past several years, I have experienced many land acquisition managers asking if a project requires any environmental permits, which typically means they are asking about Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), US Fish and Wildlife Service, or a state agency.  One of the primary concerns is how long the permit process might take with these agencies, therefore holding up the issuance of grading permits.  For the most part, it seems that the application and processing runs concurrently with the grading plan/permit process.  But agency permit delays hold up the project and impact the bottom line.

While I think the permit process could be very dependent on your property and environmental issues, I also think the project manager can play a major role in streamlining the process.  I am very big on making sure you have a very experienced environmental consultant, who also has good relationships with the agency personnel.  With the ACOE, a pre-application meeting is highly recommended to clearly understand their objectives, which will help in the design of the mitigation plan.  While the streamlined process should only take 4 – 5 months to obtain a permit, it seems that 12 months can pass by quickly because the agency will respond to your application with comments and you go to the back of the line when you resubmit.  So maybe that is the simplistic viewpoint, but I would not discount the value of good project management in this process.

On the other hand, I have seen a couple of recent examples where the ACOE process has delayed the grading permit for 4 years.  In one case, a land seller was processing the ACOE permit and the 4-year delay held up the land sale to a homebuilder.  I was not privy to all the details, but it seems the ACOE changed course on issuing a nationwide permit and required a 404 permit.  The REALLY good news for this land seller was that home prices were escalating at a rapid pace and that had an exponential rise in the land value, more than doubling the land price.  I have joked that this land seller should have sent a thank you card to the ACOE.

I am sure that not all of these ACOE permit delays have such financially positive outcomes.  Some of these difficult processes may not be avoidable, but I often think that the project management side is many times the culprit.

We welcome your comments, experience, or questions below with respect to the ACOE and environmental permit process.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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