Army Corps furloughs more Sacramento staff as shutdown continues

About 450 pending permit actions overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been thrown into limbo by the federal government shutdown, potentially causing delays for many area development projects.

The Sacramento district of the Corps on Tuesday furloughed an additional 100 employees due to the shutdown, including all 40who work in the regulatory division that handles permits.

About 200 people have now been furloughed by the Sacramento district, which oversees a sprawling region that includes all of interior California as well as portions of Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. That represents about 20 percent of the district’s entire staff. Most of the furloughs have occurred in Sacramento, where the district has its headquarters.

The Corps issues permits under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act for any project that discharges material into a waterway. This includes many land-development activities that affect wetlands as well as activities such as dredging. It also issues permits under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act for facilities such as wharfs, piers, docks and breakwaters.

DeDe Cordell, a spokeswoman for the district, said about 250 pending permits have been delayed by the shutdown and furloughs. An additional 100 enforcement actions also have been delayed. In addition, the shutdown will delay 100 pending “jurisdictional determinations,” in which a developer seeks a decision, for example, on whether a permit is needed before grading land that may be a wetland.

The Corps previously closed public parks at water facilities it maintains. In the Sacramento region, this includes campgrounds and public access areas at Martis Creek Lake near Truckee and Black Butte Lake near Orland. Cordell said that, besides the parks, the addition of the regulatory program closure affects one of most publicly visible areas of Corps operations.

“It’s a big part of our district,” Cordell said. “It’s tremendously important work, because it requires a very special skill set to try and balance that need to protect the nation’s aquatic resources and yet allow reasonable development.”

The furloughs mean some developers will have to wait longer to get permits that are required before construction can begin.

John Costa, a spokesman for the North State Building Industry Association, said the federal permits are time-consuming under normal conditions. Additional delays are not welcome, he said.

“Our ability to meet housing demand is based on our ability to bring supply to market,” Costa said. “With this on top of it, it will have an impact.”

The furloughs have not yet affected any flood control projects, which are overseen by a separate staff at the Corps district.

Cordell said the district may be able to make exceptions if permits are needed in an emergency. Anyone who believes they have an emergency that requires a permit should call the district at (916) 557-5100.