The following tips will help move your project along when seeking applicable permits from PA DEP for activities in or along Pennsylvania’s water resources ¾ streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands.
Know the water resources at the project site.
Before planning the project’s implementation, it is essential to understand the water resources that the project may affect. What streams and wetlands are involved? Are any of the streams or wetlands classified as High Quality (HQ) or Exceptional Value (EV)?
Conduct the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) search and any sensitive species surveys early on.
This ensures adequate time to capture the necessary information without delaying a project’s start date. For example, bog turtles are an endangered species in Pennsylvania, and are most active in April to June. As such, Phase II Bog Turtle Surveys, if required for the PNDI evaluation, can only be conducted in this timeframe. Applicants should account for adequate time to conduct all necessary surveys.
General permits can streamline projects.
Many DEP regulations (such as those in Chapter 102 and Chapter 105) include provisions for a general permit. A general permit covers a range of similar activities with similar environmental impacts, meeting certain criteria laid out in the permit application. General permits often have shorter applications and require less information than an individual permit. Pre-application meetings may not be necessary for projects eligible for general permits. If the project qualifies for coverage under a general permit, applying for coverage under the general permit will often streamline the permitting process. If the project does not meet the criteria of the general permit, apply for an individual permit. While general permit reviews can be faster, it is also important to recognize that water resource restoration projects may not qualify for general permits due to the needed restoration of a specific site.
Some activities typically regulated under Chapter 105 are eligible for permit waivers.
Under the Chapter 105 regulations, which govern waterway management and dam safety, waivers of permit requirements may be applicable for a wide variety of activities considered “environmentally friendly” and/or that have minimal or positive impacts on water quality and public safety. A permit waiver for eligible activities may significantly expedite implementation of the project. For a complete list of waiver-eligible activities under Chapter 105 regulations, see the Chapter 105 section of this guide and 25 Pa. Code § 105.12. Contact the appropriate DEP regional office to discuss permit waiver eligibility of specific projects or activities.
County conservation districts conduct certain permit reviews.
Coordinate with the county conservation district (CCDs) during project planning process to apply for permits through the appropriate channels. Most counties have delegation authority for Chapter 102 permitting, and some have delegation authority for Chapter 105 permitting; the list on page 18 in the Chapter 105 section of this guide shows which CCDs have authority to issue permits under Chapter 105. CCDs are often the agency responsible for review and approval of Erosion and Sediment Control Plans associated with waterway restoration projects. The CCDs can provide guidance on the type of plan and/or any other permit that may be needed for earth disturbance activities.
Environmentally beneficial projects may receive prioritized permit review.
DEP and its partners in each county all have strong interests in successful and timely implementation of projects which will improve local water quality. Call DEP early in the scoping stage of the project to get answers for any questions that arise prior to beginning the application process. When applicable, applicants are also encouraged to highlight the priority of the project as environmentally beneficial in the permit application. For example, DEP encourages applicants to highlight if the project is part of Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan or a Countywide Action Plan in any permit application packages submitted. This will alert DEP staff to prioritize the review process for the application so applicants can get to work quickly on environmentally beneficial projects, in accordance with DEP’s Permit Review Process and Permit Decision Guarantee Policy.
E-permitting is expanding.
DEP’s Waterways Engineering and Wetlands Program accepts applications for Chapter 105 General Permits through DEP’s e-permitting initiative. Applications for certain Chapter 102 permits will also be accepted through DEP’s e-permitting system soon. DEP is working to expand e-permitting to help streamline permit application and review processes. For more information about Chapter 105 e-permitting, visit www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Water/Waterways/Pages/ePermitting.aspx.
Permit requirements are revised occasionally.
Permit requirements, fees, and technical guidance can change over time as new permits are developed and issued, or as registrations and applications are revised. Communication with DEP can help applicants stay apprised of any recent or pending changes to the permit requirements when renewing permits. Checking DEP’s eLibrary, prior to submitting a permit application can help ensure that you are using the latest forms.
If a project requires extensive knowledge of a certain discipline, DEP recommends that the applicant hire a consultant who has significant experience with the type of project being pursued. Streambank grading, floodplain benching, stream restoration, floodplain restoration, in-stream habitat structures, and other types of projects are often very complex, and special skills and experience with these projects can facilitate more efficient permitting. For example, with stream restoration projects, expertise and knowledge in interdisciplinary sciences such as geomorphology, historic land use evaluations, soil science, hydrology, and aquatic biology are critical to assessing the site, identifying degradation, and developing restoration designs and goals.
Ensure a complete application is submitted.
Ensure a complete and technically adequate permit application or Environmental Assessment is submitted to DEP. Among the most common reasons for review delays (and ultimately, delays in implementation) are incomplete and/or incorrectly documented applications. Using PACT, incorporating feedback from pre-application meetings, and hiring a contractor or consultant with significant experience to submit the application can significantly reduce the risk of delays from incomplete applications.
Request 401 Water Quality Certification.
An applicant should submit a request for water quality certification under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. § 1341) concurrently with a complete and technically adequate Chapter 105 permit application for structures and activities only requiring an individual permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. § 1344) or under sections 9 or 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. §§ 401 and 403). A conditional water quality certification has already been issued for structures and activities eligible for general permit coverage under the Pennsylvania State Programmatic General Permit (PASPGP) and for activities authorized under the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permits that have not been suspended in Pennsylvania.
Track permits after submitting an application.
To find more information on permits received or to track the progress of a specific permit, consult Pennsylvania's Environment Facility Application Compliance Tracking System (eFACTS). Additionally, DEP's Electronic Notification System (eNOTICE) allows users to receive specific updates on selected items, including: permit applications, draft technical documents, regulations, and Land Recycling Act 2 Notices.
SOURCE: The Pennsylvanian’s Guide to Permitting for Watershed Improvement Projects, PA DEP, Dec. 2020
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