Do I Need a Consultant to Work with the Corps of Engineers?

It's Your Project, Too

 

For any Corps study, you are an equal cost-share partner, but the Corps drives the bus, tells you what the destination is and how it’s going to get there, and assures you it will get the work done on time and within budget.  A qualified consultant will make sure that the end result of the project is what you wanted and warn you of potential delays and cost increases before they occur so that you can plan ahead.

The Army Corps of Engineers is a small agency by federal standards, but it has more rules and procedures than almost any other agency except FEMA.  Of course, the Corps is unique in that it has a major non-military function but is commanded at the district, division, and headquarters levels by Army officers.  In many other ways, the Corps is so distinct from other governmental agencies that it can be overwhelming to the state and local governments with whom it partners.  In fact, the Corps can be intimidating to both new and longtime partners.  That is where Coastal Strategies has excelled in creating meaningful and effective partnerships.

The only way the Corps can get involved is through a request from a local elected official.  Sounds easy but, like most things related to the Corps, it’s not.  The law requires every Corps project to be initiated by a state or local government official.  On top of that, Congress gets directly involved because it has to authorize and fund Corps involvement project-by-project.  The Corps can’t start working until the non-federal interest has signed a cost-sharing agreement for a study, which in most cases has a total cost of $3 million, with half of that coming from Congress. 

While there’s a lot more process involved, let’s look a few reasons why you might need help:

 

The Corps says that it can’t…

  • Because Congress hasn’t authorized your project:
    • Congress only authorizes Corps studies and project implementation in even-numbered years through the Water Resources Development Act.  There’s a process for a state or local government to request an authorization, but if the request is not made to both the Corps, your congressional delegation, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA) and approved by all of them prior to the time Congress acts on its authorization bill, then you’ll have to wait another two years.  We had a situation once when Congress and the ASA were supportive of a new project, but the Corps District didn’t want to proceed because a previous study had shown the project lacked sufficient benefits.  We showed the district how to restudy the project so all benefits were accounted for, and the project was eventually authorized and funded.
       
  • Because Congress hasn’t yet funded the project:
    • Every project study or construction project the Corps works on is specifically funded by Congress.  In fact, the President proposes specific Corps projects he wants funded.  From 2011 through 2020, Congress prohibited itself from adding its own project-specific funding, generally called earmarks.  Projects need to get into the President’s earmarks or into those added by Congress.  Your congressional delegation can help, but there are both congressional and administration staffers who need to be contacted to assure funding.
       
  • Because the project doesn’t have sufficient benefits:
    • Under law, every Corps project has to produce as much in benefits as it costs.  The Corps uses its own models for estimate both costs and benefits.  For coastal projects, the Corps focuses on monetizing damages the proposed project will avoid.  However, the models often don’t show all the benefits provided by a project. Is there a critical evacuation route that might be affected?  How about the value of the sewer and water infrastructure affected?  The Corps is supposed to find all the economic, environmental, and societal factors it is allowed to take into consideration, but it may not because does so takes time.
       
  • Because the right questions weren’t asked:
    • The Corps has several legislative authorities for studies and can even do some projects without a project-specific authorization or appropriation.  Some district staffs (OR offices) are better than others about telling you what they can do for you.  Is there sand from a nearby federal channel that you want to use?  There’s an authority to do that.  Do you have a project that includes both storm damage and environmental benefits and you want both counted?  That’s a hard one for the Corps since it’s just now trying to develop a method to value environmental benefits, but others federal agencies do it.  Perhaps you only need some planning or engineering assistance so you can do a project that isn’t appropriate for the Corps.  There are Corps programs to provide state and local governments (as well as nonprofits) with technical assistance at half price.
       

These are just a few examples but getting help from the Army Corps of Engineers involves far more than getting funding.  Coastal Strategies has the expertise, credibility, and record of success to function as extra staff for you that gets into the day-to-day trenches to work with the Corps as part of your team. We’ve seen numerous times when local governments have dropped the ball on a deadline, didn’t know how to ask for the help they needed, or were simply afraid to challenge the Corps. Remember, it's your project, too.

So, is hiring a consultant the right move for you?

If you are still thinking, please reach out to us and we can help you determine if we are the right fit.

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