Wetlands are water saturated areas, like marshes or swamps, which are vital to their surrounding environments. Like kidneys, they have the ability to clean the water that flows through them. They can also mitigate large flood events and recharge underground aquifers. Wetlands can also provide fisheries and timber resources, habitat for biodiversity, and protect coastal communities from extreme events, such as typhoons and hurricanes.
Many of these areas are being used for urban development projects and it is the Corps’ responsibility to alleviate impacts through the permitting process of projects that affect wetlands.
Permitting areas of wetlands can be complex, to say the least, because of the always evolving Clean Water Act, which is the legislation that defines the guidelines of regulating wetlands.
“We are never bored in regulatory,” said Tom Charles, regulatory specialist at the Corps of Engineers Wilmington District, “we are always dealing with changes.”
Evaluating and defining a wetland requires surveys, as well as lots of time and attention to detail.
“The soil never lies,” said Tom, “looking at the soil at approximately 1-1.5 feet underground is how you can see what is wetland and what is not.”
Once a wetland is defined, the customer must justify a purpose and need to receive a permit to move forward with a project that would alter the wetland or the area surrounding a wetland.
“If there is a way to avoid [impacts] and still achieve the intended purpose or need”, said Tom, “then that is most likely the way you’ll have to go.”
A typical field day for a regulatory specialist can last up to 12 hours and that’s only 6 or 7 appointments if everything moves quick and smooth. They can receive up to 80 calls/emails per day including the days where they are in the field and cannot respond to those calls or emails.
Tom decided to make the 2.5 hour drive to Beaufort for only two appointments at the request of the traveling civilians interested in moving to the area from out of state.
“We are in the service industry,” said Tom, “they could only meet on this day because of their travels and even though I could only get two appointments, it’s my job to get out and help them.”