Corps works with Vermont Farmers for permits to avoid penalties

Working closely with state and other federal agencies to prevent a rash of future wetland violations in Franklin County, Vermont, and to remedy present violations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assisting farmers to obtain the proper permits prior to work.

CONCORD, Mass., April 16, 2001 -- Working closely with state and other federal agencies to prevent a rash of future wetland violations in Franklin County, Vermont, and to remedy present violations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assisting farmers to obtain the proper permits prior to work.

The violations are associated with large land conversion projects where forest is being converted into cropland, and with smaller projects where existing farm fields have been expanded or improved with additional drainage without first obtaining the necessary state and federal permits.

(The Corps will participate in a meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service to help farmers understand the federal permit requirements and procedures at the Abbey in Sheldon, Vt., this afternoon.)

"At present, there are approximately a dozen properties that are being investigated, with impacts ranging from about two to about 70 acres," said Larry Rosenberg, Chief of Public Affairs for Corps in New England. "We are working with those individuals who are in violation of the Clean Water Act to file for after-the-fact permits and we will assist them in every way possible to correct their problem and move on with their project. In order to accomplish this we will meet, one-on-one, with the farmers, at their convenience, on their property, to help them start the process."

The Corps also seeks to assist farmers in obtaining the proper permits before performing work in wetlands.

"The Corps has already issued two individual permits to property owners in Franklin County for the conversion by mechanized land-clearing of forested and/or scrub-shrub wetland to cropland," said Rosenberg. "Our Vermont Project

Office has met with other farmers interested in the conversion of wetland to cropland and will continue to do so - we need to provide our assistance and expertise to help these individuals overcome any difficulties."

Federal, state and local wetlands jurisdiction may be defined differently. For the Corps' programs, the wetland boundary must be determined according to the mandatory technical criteria for vegetation, hydrology and soils as described in the Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands.

Unauthorized work in wetlands is in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Section 404, which regulates the discharge of, dredged or fill material in United States waters, including wetlands.

In 1972, amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act added what is commonly called Section 404 authority (33 U.S.C. 1344) to the program. The Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, is authorized to issue permits, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States at specified disposal sites. Selection of such sites must be in accordance with guidelines developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in conjunction with the Secretary of the Army; these guidelines are known as the 404(b)(1) Guidelines.

The discharge of all other pollutants into waters of the U. S. is regulated under Section 402 of the Act that supersedes the Section 13 permitting authority mentioned above. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was further amended in 1977 and given the common name of "Clean Water Act" and was again amended in 1987 to modify criminal and civil penalty provisions and to add an administrative penalty provision.

Publications, permit applications, and other information can be obtained either by contacting the District's Vermont Project Office at 802-655-0334 or accessing the Corps' New England web site at http://www.nae.usace.army.mil.

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