BALTIMORE - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is requesting comments on proposed changes to the current aquaculture permitting process. Proposed changes include allowing unlimited project acreage for qualifying aquaculture activities under Nationwide Permit 48 and a concurrent review process with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“With our Regional General Permit for aquaculture expiring, we are given the opportunity to consider changes in our processes,” said Beth Bachur, Baltimore District Regulatory Branch chief. “We’ve learned that there is room for improvement; we’ve listened to the feedback received over the past five years, and we intend to incorporate changes that will make the process more efficient.”
The existing Regional General Permit for aquaculture activities in Maryland, which has been effective for the past five years, expires August 15, 2016. Baltimore District’s Regulatory Branch proposes to reinstate Nationwide Permit 48, Aug. 16, 2016, for new aquaculture activities with the goal of making the permit process more efficient.
The Baltimore District is proposing to remove the limits on project acreage for aquaculture activities under Nationwide Permit 48. To qualify for the existing Regional General Permit, projects are limited to 50 acres for shell-on-bottom, five acres for cages-on-bottom, and three acres for floating aquaculture activities. Proposed projects greater than these size limits had to undergo an individual permit process, which includes a public notice and comment period, and takes more time to process.
“Location is everything; the size and scope of a potential project should not be limited at the start,” said Woody Francis, Baltimore District Regulatory Branch aquaculture program manager. “The project can always be scaled back as necessary based on the project location to minimize effects on endangered species, navigation and historic resources.”
The Baltimore District is also working to streamline the joint state/federal aquaculture review process with Maryland DNR. The process requires applicants to receive an aquaculture lease from Maryland DNR and a permit from the Corps.
Currently, the joint application is submitted by the applicant to Maryland DNR for review, and then it is forwarded to the Baltimore District after DNR completes its survey and plans. The Baltimore District proposes DNR forward the application shortly after receipt so both agencies can concurrently review and continue to coordinate throughout the process. Additionally, the applicant can send the application to both DNR and the Baltimore District. This will enable the Baltimore District to see the application and initiate its review sooner.
The Baltimore District proposes to require additional information in the application to ensure the proposed activities have minimal impacts on navigation and endangered species. These details include a description of structure spacing; the number and spacing of vertical and horizontal lines and buoys; information identifying how adverse effects to navigation and neighboring properties have been avoided; and notification to adjacent property owners.
The Baltimore District also proposes to remove the geographic exclusion lines that made projects upstream of those lines ineligible for authorization under the 2012 Nationwide Permit 48. The lines were intended to protect fish spawning habitat, but the Baltimore District is coordinating with the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine how to best address this concern.
“We believe that these proposed changes will strike a balance between allowing oyster aquaculture to the fullest extent possible - recognizing aquaculture’s contributions to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the regional economy, while ensuring that projects do not have a negative effect on other natural resources,” said Bachur.
The public notice is available at http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. The deadline to comment is May 31, 2016. Comments will be accepted via email at email@example.com and by mail:
Attn: Woody Francis, Regulatory Branch
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District
10 South Howard St.
Baltimore, Maryland 21201