Monday, July 12, 2010


Guest post by Mr. John F. Tavolaro, the Deputy Chief of the Operations Division at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District.


Now that I have your attention, let me describe how my agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, leverages the NY and NJ Harbor Operations and Safety Committee (Harbor Ops) in our Regulatory Permit Program. First some background on both.

In the Port of NY and NJ we have a very active and vibrant Harbor Ops Committee, which is a direct reflection of the active and vibrant Harbor community. Harbor Ops casts a wide net and is inclusive of anyone who cares to participate and express an opinion. It has a Steering Committee, made up of some of the key Port players such as the US Coast Guard, Harbor Pilot organizations, NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. This group vets subjects of interest and creates the agenda for the second group the Harbor Operations Full Committee, which is made up of the broader public, such as terminal operators, tug companies and others. The Full Committee is briefed on harbor issues related to safety and operations and provides feedback.

One of the many programs that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages is the Regulatory Program. Anyone who proposes to perform dredging, construction, filling or dumping of dredged material in waters of the U.S. or ocean waters needs to obtain a permit from the Corps, pursuant to several federal laws. Part of this permit process is a public interest review, involving soliciting public comments by way of public notices and/or public meetings or hearings. In a highly populated and busy Port such as ours, there are many competing interests that all want access to the water – commercial, recreational, residential and industrial. Sometimes proposals are made that might create unsafe conditions if they were built as planned because of a lack of understanding on how competing interests already use the waterway. We have found that before a permit proposal goes out for public comment it is very useful to vet it with the Harbor Ops committees to obtain insight on the navigational safety of the proposal and how it might be modified or amended in order to be made safer.

Here’s how it works. An applicant comes in to us with a proposal, usually as a pre-application submittal (most permit applicants know it is better to come talk to us before submitting a formal application so that the time clock for a decision isn’t running - it makes it easier to engage in a constructive dialogue and change the proposal if necessary). We will review it and give them comments, including the comment that they must obtain comments and suggestions on the proposal from Harbor Ops, if we believe the proposal will be something that Harbor Ops is interested in. The applicant will then set up time on the agenda for the Steering Committee and brief them. The Steering Committee will provide constructive comments directly to the applicant, and if appropriate, put the proposal on the agenda for the Full Committee for comment. Usually, the applicant will modify their proposal to account for the comments received from the Harbor Ops committees before submitting their formal application. The beauty of this is that one important part of our public interest review for the permit application, navigational safety and minimizing interference with other legitimate uses of the waters, is pretty much taken care of before we even get the formal application. Working through the Harbor Ops structure is a quicker and fairly painless way of obtaining these comments. If we were to issue a public notice and receive individual comments from many of these same players, it would be far more time consuming, frustrating and tedious for all involved. I think leveraging the Harbor Ops committees in this manner better serves the public and directly engages all the necessary players in an efficient and transparent manner – it’s good government.

John F. Tavolaro
Deputy Chief, Operations Division
US Army Corps of Engineers New York District