US Army Corps of Engineers
Portland District

The Corps can initiate processing of permit applications under emergency authorization procedures. We will review emergency authorization requests on a case-by-case basis. Learn what defines an emergency and how to begin the process at Emergency Permit Application Procedures.

Regulatory Permitting

Our Review Components

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Regulatory Program is to protect the nation's aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions. The Corps balances the reasonably foreseeable benefits and detriments of proposed projects, and makes permit decisions that recognize the essential values of the nation's aquatic ecosystems to the general public, as well as the property rights of private citizens who want to use their land. During the permit process, the Corps considers the views of other federal, state and local agencies, Native American tribes, 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 United States. The Corps strives to make its permit decisions in a timely manner that minimizes impacts to the regulated public.

The Corps’ permit application process gives applicants the opportunity to demonstrate that they have avoided and minimized impacts to waters of the United States as much as possible. If it’s shown that impacts cannot be completely avoided and minimized, the Corps may require mitigation to offset those impacts. The information in this module tells you what permits are available on both a nationwide and regional basis, details the Corps’ needs regarding your plans to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources, and how to compensate when impacts are unavoidable.

Permit evaluation factors

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Types of Permits

The Corps has two types of Department of the Army permits: general permits and individual permits.

Permit Cost/Fees

There are no fees for general permits and letters of permission issued by the Corps. The following fees apply when a project has been approved and a standard individual permit is issued by the Corps and accepted by the applicant:

  • $10 for individuals (non-commercial activities)
  • $100 for businesses (commercial and industrial activities)
  • No fees are charged to governmental agencies

General permits

General permits authorize activities that are similar in nature and cause only minimal adverse environmental impacts to aquatic resources, separately or on a cumulative basis. There are two types of general permits: nationwide permits and regional general permits.

  • Nationwide Permits. Nationwide permits are issued by the Corps on a national basis and are designed to streamline Department of the Army authorization of projects such as commercial developments, utility lines or road improvements that impact the nation’s aquatic environment. To ensure activities authorized by nationwide permits cause only minimal adverse environmental effects, Corps division engineers are authorized to add regional conditions to protect local aquatic ecosystems. The nationwide permits are proposed, issued, modified, reissued or extended, and revoked from time to time, after the opportunity for public notice and comment. An activity may be authorized under a nationwide permit only if it meets both the national and regional conditions of the nationwide permits, including compliance with the Endangered Species Act and any special conditions added by the Corps. If the Corps finds that the proposed activity would have more than minimal individual or cumulative net adverse impact on the environment, or may be contrary to the public interest, you would need to modify your proposal to reduce or eliminate those adverse effects, or apply for a standard individual permit.
  • Regional General Permits. A regional general permit is issued for a specific geographic area by an individual Corps District. Each regional general permit has specific terms and conditions, all of which must be met for project-specific actions to be verified. If your project does not comply with all of the terms and conditions, authorization may be granted by another type of Department of the Army permit, however, the process will likely take longer. Therefore, to expedite the Corps’ review of your application, we recommend you modify your project to meet all terms and conditions of the applicable regional general permit.

Individual permits

Individual permits are for activities that do not fit the guidelines for a nationwide permit or regional general permit. There are two types of individual permits: standard individual permits and letters of permission.

  • Standard individual permits. A standard individual permit is required for activities having more than minimal impacts and/or for activities that do not qualify for a nationwide permit or regional general permit. An important distinction between an individual permit and a nationwide permit or regional general permit is the public review requirement. Nationwide permits and regional general permits undergo public review as part of their development process; however, project-specific actions can be authorized by nationwide permit or regional general permit without further public review. A standard individual permit is subject to the public interest review process on a project-specific basis. A public notice will be issued for a standard individual permit application to allow federal, state and local agencies, adjacent property owners and the general public an opportunity to review and comment on the plan or to request a public hearing. Applications involving public notices are typically completed within four to six months. However, some complex activities, issues or legal requirements may require additional review and take more time.
  • Upon receipt of your permit application, you will be sent an acknowledgement of receipt and a Corps reference number specific to your file. You should refer to this number when inquiring about your application. If your application is incomplete, the Corps will request the additional information needed to continue its review. The project will be reviewed, balancing the need and expected benefits against the probable impacts of the work, taking into consideration all comments received and other relevant factors.

Letter of Permission

A letter of permission is a type of individual permit issued through a more streamlined process. Letters of permission are typically for activities subject to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. Individual Corps districts may develop letter of permissions applicable for work subject to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act after coordinating with state and federal agencies and allowing the opportunity for public comment.

A letter of permission may be issued for projects where proposed work would be minor, would not have significant individual or cumulative impacts on environmental values, and isn’t expected to encounter appreciable opposition. These types of projects usually include minor dredging and construction, maintenance, or replacement of piers, mooring buoys, piles, or floats. Compliance reviews under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act still apply for a letter of permission.

Public Interest Review

Related Authorization Requirements

Permit regulations

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Alternatives Analysis

You can make the permitting process easier by first taking time to consider how your project will impact waters of the United States, and then finding alternatives to avoid, minimize or compensate for those impacts. An alternatives analysis may be a required as a part of the Corps’ review. But whether it’s a formal report or information provided in the application form, the design stage is the best time to identify alternatives in order to avoid or minimize impacts to waters of the United States, while still meeting your project’s purpose.

The alternatives analysis is documentation that explains the range of alternatives that you have considered. It describes alternative sites and project designs that were considered to avoid or minimize impacts to waters of the United States. This analysis should include alternative designs with less impact and reasons why the alternatives were not chosen.

This is a requirement under the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines of the Clean Water Act for projects that would involve placing dredge or fill material into waters of the United States.

What the 404(b)(1) Guidelines say about alternatives:

“No discharge of dredged or fill material shall be permitted if there is a practicable [Definition] (rollover definition: Practicable: If it is available and capable of being done after considering cost, existing technology, and logistics in light of overall project purpose (40 CFR 230.10(a)).) alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem, so long as the alternative does not have other significant adverse environmental consequences.” (40 CFR 230.10(a))

Where does this fit into the permit process?

Nationwide Permits: If your project fits under a nationwide permit you don’t have to complete a detailed alternatives analysis. However, you still must also comply with the General Condition for Mitigation that requires:

  • You design and construct your project to minimize adverse effects to Waters of the United States
  • You incorporate avoidance, minimization, and compensation measures to the extent necessary to ensure adverse effects are minimal

Individual Permits: An alternatives analysis is a requirement of National Environmental Policy Act for all permits and a requirement of the Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines for Section 404 permits. The Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines prohibit discharges into aquatic areas where less environmentally damaging, practicable alternatives exist. If the alternatives analysis does not clearly demonstrate that your project is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative (LEDPA), then your permit must be denied by the Corps.

Appropriate level of analysis in the documentation

The level of detail and documentation is flexible depending on the project, but should reflect the significance and complexity of the discharge activity. The level of scrutiny should be commensurate with the severity of the environmental impact as well as the scope and cost of the project. The burden of proof to demonstrate compliance with Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines rests with the applicant. If there is not sufficient information to clearly demonstrate compliance, the permit will be denied (40 CFR 230.12(a)(3)(iv)).

Consideration of small landowners (RGL 95-01)

(Rollover definition: Regulatory Guidance Letter 95-01: Regulatory Guidance Letters provide practical guidance and interpretation from HQ on how to interpret or implement policy that may be unclear. Regulatory Guidance Letters are used only to interpret or clarify existing Regulatory Program policy, but do provide mandatory guidance to the Corps Districts. Regulatory Guidance Letters are sequentially numbered and expire on a specified date. However, unless superseded by specific provisions of subsequently issued regulations or Regulatory Guidance Letters, the guidance provided in the Regulatory Guidance Letters generally remains valid after the expiration date. These can be found on the HQ website under Regulatory Guidance Letters.)

The Corps presumes that off-site alternatives located on property not currently owned by the applicant are not practicable for the following types of small landowners:

  • single family home
  • expansion of a barn or farm building
  • expansion of a small business facility

However, these small land owners still must minimize impacts and compensate if appropriate. Some factors to consider in the alternatives analysis include:

  • Project purpose
  • Acreage needed for proposal
  • Utilities, including cost
  • Infrastructure, including cost
  • Water dependency [Definition] (Rollover definition: Water Dependency: Examples of water dependent activities: marina and/or boat dock construction or wetland restoration. Examples of activities that are NOT water dependent: housing developments or roads.)
  • Availability of alternative sites

Reasons a proposal might not comply with the 404(b)(1) Guidelines

  • Feasible alternatives with less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem exist
  • he project significantly degrades the aquatic ecosystem
  • The application does not include all appropriate and practicable measures to minimize harm to the aquatic ecosystem
  • Violates state water quality standards
  • Jeopardizes the continued existence of a species listed under the Endangered Species Act
  • Insufficient information to make a determination

Compensatory Mitigation

Mitigation is an important part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process. It includes avoiding, minimizing and compensating for impacts to aquatic resources. If you haven’t already done so, please refer to the “Project Planning” section in this module. If your project cannot avoid or sufficiently minimize affects to wetlands or other waters of the United States, you must compensate for the impacts. This is called compensatory mitigation and is the restoration, establishment, enhancement or preservation of aquatic resources to offset unavoidable losses due to project impacts.

The Mitigation Rule

Mitigation requirements are outlined in Compensatory Mitigation for Losses of Aquatic Resources Final Rule (33 CFR Part 332). The mitigation rule promotes consistency and predictability and improves ecological success of mitigation efforts through better site selection, use of a watershed approach for planning and project design, and use of ecological success criteria to evaluate and measure performance of mitigation projects.

Providing compensatory mitigation

There are three ways compensatory mitigation can be provided: Mitigation Banks, In-Lieu Fee Programs and Permittee-Responsible Mitigation. Mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs are generally the preferred options for mitigation because they consolidate resources and involve more financial planning and scientific expertise. These factors help reduce the risk of failure of mitigation projects. The following are acceptable mitigation options, listed in order of environmental preference as described in the mitigation rule:

Mitigation bank

A mitigation bank is one or more sites where aquatic resources such as wetlands or streams are restored, established, enhanced and/or preserved for the purpose of providing compensatory mitigation in advance of authorized impacts to similar resources. A bank sells mitigation “credits” to permittees. The obligation to provide mitigation is then transferred to the bank sponsor. The bank sponsor is then responsible for implementing the mitigation, monitoring its performance and long-term site management.

In-lieu fee program

An in-lieu fee program involves the restoration, establishment, enhancement and/or preservation of aquatic resources through funds typically paid to state governments, local governments, or non-profit natural resources management organizations. As with banks, credits are sold to permittees by the in-lieu fee sponsor. The in-lieu fee sponsor is then responsible for implementing the mitigation, monitoring its performance and managing the site long-term.

Permittee-responsible mitigation

Individual mitigation projects constructed by permittees can also compensate for environmental impacts authorized by the Corps. This option makes the permittee responsible for implementing the mitigation, monitoring its performance and long-term site management. Mitigation projects may occur on the same site as the permitted project or at an off-site location usually within the same watershed. In some cases, permittee-responsible mitigation is the only option. This is typical when proposed impacts are not located within the service area of an approved mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program, or if these mitigation options would not provide appropriate mitigation for the proposed impacts.

What to include in the mitigation plan

If you’re using a bank or in-lieu fee program you do not need to provide all of the components listed below. However, you should include a description of the baseline conditions at the impact site, the number and type of resource credits to be secured and how these were determined. If compensatory mitigation is required, you must submit a mitigation plan. There are 14 required components in every mitigation plan. These components are described in detail in the mitigation rule (33 CFR 332.4) and are listed below.

  1. Preparation and Approval
  2. Objectives
  3. Site selection
  4. Site protection instrument
  5. Baseline information
  6. Determination of credit
  7. Mitigation work plan
  8. Maintenance plan
  9. Performance standards
  10. Monitoring requirements
  11. Long-term management plan
  12. Adaptive management plan
  13. Financial assurances
  14. Other relevant information

Although not required, assistance from a qualified environmental consultant may be beneficial in developing a comprehensive and acceptable mitigation plan. All mitigation plans require approval from the Corps.


Links to additional mitigation information and tools:

Our Commitment to Public Service

Public service is a public trust. We, as Corps regulators, must earn this trust, and to keep this trust, we must conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects the following principles:

Professional - We will conduct ourselves in a professional manner in dealings with all our customers, including applicants, violators, agencies, interest groups and the general public.

Fair and reasonable - We will be open-minded, impartial, and consistent in our interactions with all our customers to ensure all actions and decisions are free from bias and are not arbitrary or capricious. Customers will be treated equally and with tolerance.

Knowledgeable - We will remain knowledgeable of applicable laws, regulations, and scientific and technical advances which affect our program.

Honest - We will be truthful, straightforward, and candid in all dealings with our customers.

Timely - We will strive to provide our customers with timely regulatory responses regardless of whether those responses are favorable or advese.

Accountable - We will be decisive in all actions and accept responsibility for any of our decisions and resulting consequences. All decisions will be factual and properly documented.

Respectful - We will treat our customers with dignity, courtesy, compassion, and sensitivity.