U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is known for its past engineering feats, but when it comes to issuing permits it needs a kick in the pants.
Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, no stranger to permit problems deserved and otherwise, was chastised by Corps officials this week for not obtaining a permit before it “launched” the superstructure of the new Washington state ferry. Basically, a launching track was built above the existing boat ramp so the heavy boat without a bottom could be loaded onto a barge.
The ironic part is the Corps knew Nichols was planning the launch and, in fact, staff had asked for pictures about a week before the launch. The pictures would clearly show the stanchions for the launch ramp were placed on the concrete boat ramp, not on the beach, and no natural beach would be seriously disturbed. And Nichols had no intention of leaving the temporary structure in place. It has other boats to launch the old fashioned way — down the ramp — and the structure was moved immediately.
Congress has tasked the Corps with issuing permits for “installation of structures, including temporary structures, within navigable waters of the U.S.” That’s an enormous job, but permit seekers shouldn’t be forced to wait forever for a permit.
Port of South Whidbey faced a similar situation trying to get a Corps of Engineers permit for a relatively minor remodeling of the Langley Marina, consisting mainly of moving a pier/breakwater to where the public could use it. After more than a year of waiting, the permit was granted, but not before the port asked for help from our delegation to Washington, D.C.
Private companies like Nichols Brothers, with a backlog of work and the good jobs they provide, have even less time to wait. The Corps should be sensitive to the environment, but also to the need to help the private sector run efficiently. Competition is intense and if a job can’t be done on time because of waiting for a permit, then someone else will get the next job.
The Army Corps of Engineers needs to streamline its process. Send an engineer with a checklist to a site, look at the drawings, make suggestions and issue the permit. The same engineer can watch to make sure the permit is being followed. Just don’t drag it through the bureaucracy for weeks, months or years.