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Who is required to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

Any individual, company, corporation or government body planning construction or fill activities in waters of the United States, including wetlands, must obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers. In general, the Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over all construction activities in tidal and/or navigable waters, including adjacent wetlands, shoreward to the mean high water line. In other areas such as non-tidal waterways, adjacent wetlands, isolated wetlands, forested wetlands, and lakes, the Corps has regulatory authority over the discharge of dredged or fill material.

Delineation or identification of Federally regulated wetlands is not always obvious to the untrained, inexperienced individual. Thus it is important that, prior to initiating any construction in coastal areas and/or in proximity to any stream or suspected wetland area, the Corps of Engineers be contacted in order to determine the nature and extent of Federal jurisdiction over the proposed activity. In addition, state and local governments should be contacted to obtain any required authorizations. The Corps' jurisdiction often exceeds that of state and local governments. Persons planning any work in waters of the United States, including wetlands, must obtain Corps of Engineers approval prior to commencing work.

Apply for all required permits as early as possible and obtain the necessary approvals before you commence work.

What activities require Corps permits?

Those dealing with all structures such as bulkheads, piers, catwalks, boathouses and pilings.

  • Excavation, dredging, filling and depositing dredged material in waters and wetlands such as marshes, swamps, bogs, forested wetlands, isolated wetlands, and in lakes and waterways.
  • Overhead and underwater transmission lines, cables and pipes.
  • Construction of breakwaters, jetties, groins and stone revetments.

When should I apply for a permit?

As early as possible in the project planning stages. The Corps' application review process usually requires site visits, federal, state and local government inter-agency coordination and data analysis, before a proper determination can be made. Therefore, we urge contacting the Corps of Engineers as a first step in planning any project.

If local or state permits have been issued, is a Corps of Engineers permit still necessary?

Yes. The Corps' jurisdiction is separate from that of local and state governments. Again, by contacting us early, the applicant can determine whether or not a Corps permit is required for the proposed work. We also recommend early contacts with appropriate local and state agencies to determine their permit requirements.

Is a permit required if the applicant owns the land?

Yes. Private ownership of any land adjoining or under the water, including wetlands, has no effect on the requirement to obtain a permit or authorization.

What are the consequences of not obtaining Corps permits?

Parties responsible for willful and direct violation of Section 10 of the River and Harbor Act of 1899, or Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, are subject to fines ranging up to $25,000 per day of violation and imprisonment for up to one year, or both, along with removal of structures and restoration of the area. 


Why should I waste my time and yours by applying for a permit, when you probably will not let me do the work anyway?

Nationwide, only three percent of all requests for permits are denied. Those applicants denied permits usually have refused to change the design, timing or location of the proposed activity.

To avoid unnecessary delays, pre-application conferences, particularly for applications on major activities, are recommended. The Corps endeavors to give you helpful information, including factors which will be considered during the public interest review, and alternatives for your consideration that may prove useful in designing your project.

How can I design my project to eliminate the need for a Corps permit?

If your activity is located in an area of tidal waters, the best way to avoid the need for a permit is to select a site above the high tide line and avoid wetlands or other water bodies. In the vicinity of fresh water, stay above ordinary high water and avoid wetlands adjacent to any stream or lake.

Also, your activity may be exempt and may not require a Corps permit, or it may be authorized by a Nationwide Permit or Regional General Permit. So, before you build, dredge or fill, contact the Philadelphia District's Regulatory Branch for specific information on exemptions and categories of activities that have been previously authorized by the Corps of Engineers by Nationwide and Regional General Permits.