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Regulatory Division plays vital role in protecting the nation's aquatic resources

USACE, Louisville District
Published July 31, 2023
Regulatory Division plays vital role in protecting the nation's aquatic resources

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Regulatory Division team participates in a training course and takes hydraulic measurements of Floyd's Fork in Louisville, Kentucky.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Regulatory Division plays a vital role in protecting the nation’s aquatic resources, as USACE evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in the nation’s waters, including wetlands. 

Regulatory Division also initiates compliance and enforcement actions as required to ensure strong protection of aquatic resources and navigation. 

“Our mission is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources and navigation capacity while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions,” said Eric Reusch, USACE Louisville District Regulatory Division chief. “We try to find the balance. There is an environmental resource protection aspect of it but also understanding the need for development and timely regulatory decisions. Our role is like that of a mediator, and we make decisions that strike that balance.”

The Louisville District’s Regulatory Division is responsible for administering the Regulatory Program in the majority of Indiana and Kentucky, the southeastern portion of Illinois, and the Ohio River in southwestern Ohio. The Regulatory Division evaluates permit applications for essentially all work that occurs in waters of the United States that are regulated by USACE pursuant to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Some examples of areas that may be within USACE jurisdiction include marshes, swamps, streams, rivers and lakes.

All regulated activities occurring within jurisdictional areas require a permit from USACE. Some example activities that require a permit include dredging of waterways, bank stabilization, recreational ponds and lakes, as well as the construction of piers, docks, marinas, fleeting areas, boat ramps, roads, residential and commercial developments, utility lines and mining activities.

The Corps’ Regulatory Program plays an integral role in ensuring environmental and other public interest factors are addressed in the planning and construction of many development projects, although this role may not always be apparent to the general public, according to Reusch.   

For example, the construction of the $5.8 billion Ford Blue Oval SK Battery Park in Glendale, Kentucky, is one of the largest economic developments in the history of the Commonwealth, and Louisville District’s Regulatory Division played a significant role in getting the project off the ground by ensuring the developer met necessary environmental and cultural resource requirements.

Last year, a piece of Louisville’s history was preserved thanks in part to the Regulatory Division’s efforts to ensure a development project complied with the National Historic Preservation Act. The Paget House, a home which was originally built in the late 1700’s and then added onto in the early 1800’s at the request of Margaret Wright Paget, a descendant of George and Martha Washington, was restored as part of a preservation project required by the USACE permit. 

In February 2021, a smokestack, associated with the demolition of the former Beckjord Generating Station, toppled into the Ohio River in New Richmond, Ohio. The waste debris in the river caused concerns from the local communities, and Regulatory Division, under the authorities of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Clean Water Act, quickly completed an enforcement action requiring the contractors to clean it up and ensure safe navigation in the river. 

“The vast majority of our work is looking at permit applications for proposed impacts to waters of the U.S.” Reusch said. “Primarily we are looking at avoidance or minimization of those impacts. So, the developer will come in and propose something on a plan, and we will look at that and work with them to minimize the impacts to aquatic resources and any endangered species or historic properties that are associated with that work.”

During the permit process, USACE considers the views of other Federal, state, and local agencies, interest groups, and the general public. The results of this careful public interest review are fair and equitable decisions that allow reasonable use of private property, infrastructure development, and growth of the economy, while offsetting the authorized impacts to the waters of the U.S. The adverse impacts to the aquatic environment are offset by mitigation requirements, which may include restoring, creating and preserving wetlands and streams.

Environmental policies and laws are ever-changing due in part to shifting priorities of different presidential administrations. This requires Regulatory Division to remain flexible and adaptable, according to Reusch. 

Just last fiscal year, Louisville District’s Regulatory Division issued 960 regulatory permits, which authorized impacts to approximately 240,000 linear feet of streams and 105 acres of wetlands. Approximately 162,958 mitigation credits were required to offset these permitted impacts. The team also completed 352 jurisdictional determinations and resolved 51 enforcement actions to ensure protection of aquatic resources and navigation. 

“We have three branches which includes the North Branch and the South Branch - who take care of our permitting workload and we have a third branch for mitigation, compliance, and enforcement,” Reusch said. “We also have field offices in Newburgh, Indiana, at Carr Creek in Sassafras, Kentucky, and in Indianapolis, Indiana.”

The multidisciplinary regulatory team is currently made up of 34 employees, which consists of biologists, geologists, soil scientists, physical scientists, archeologists, geographers and engineers.