The Permitting Journey to Deepening and Widening a Federal Navigation Channel

With the trend towards larger, more efficient container cargo vessels, and the Panama Canal expansion expected to increase their presence in U.S. waters, container ports need to improve navigation channels to accommodate these larger vessels and remain competitive. Many channels are federally-constructed or maintained, and invoke a host of federal permit and approval requirements, primarily with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Port authorities should know these requirements in detail, to successfully build improvements, as they can significantly impact planning and construction schedules, if they choose to do so outside of a federally-led feasibility study process. These requirements are discussed, based on the Port of Houston Authority’s (PHA) recent experience obtaining these Federal approvals for the Bayport Ship Channel (BSC) and Barbours Cut Channel (BCC). The approval “journey” involves the familiar, such as the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit, and less familiar processes under Section 408 of Title 33 of the U.S. Code (33 U.S.C. 408), and federal assumption of maintenance (AOM) under Section 204(f) of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 1986. Besides the Section 404 permit, separate reports are required for Section 408 and Section 204(f), variously covering how the federal channel will be modified, what effect if any, it will have on the intended performance for the existing federal project, economic justification for AOM, and what the change in federal maintenance amounts would be. To date, very few projects in general, and even less for navigation, have undergone all processes, especially simultaneously, since more recent policy has emerged. Section 408 of 33 U.S.C. requires secretary of the army approval (since delegated to the chief of engineers) to modify existing USACE projects, which includes federally-maintained channels. Renewed emphasis on 33 USC 408 for navigation is emerging given the impending navigation improvement needs in the nation. Section 204(f) of WRDA 1986 sets the basic requirement for federal AOM of the improved channel to be approved if economically justified, environmentally acceptable, and it meets appropriate engineering and design standards. Given the typical lengths of these individual processes, completing all three in a timely manner to meet most ports’ needs, necessitates performing these concurrently, leading to the need to integrate all 3 processes, and for high levels of consistency in report documentation, terminology, project extent/amounts, conclusions and other reporting aspects. The paper discusses the processes, steps, pitfalls, and pointers in going through all of these processes simultaneously.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Pagination: pp 822-831
  • Monograph Title: Ports 2016: Port Planning and Development

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01605616
  • Record Type: Publication
  • ISBN: 9780784479919
  • Files: TRIS, ASCE
  • Created Date: Jun 7 2016 3:04PM