USACE Chicago District reaches highest Section 408 permit program total in six-year history

USACE Chicago District
Published Dec. 3, 2021

From authorizing a new bridge over the Chicago River to helping an endangered species in Wisconsin, the district’s Section 408 permit program has done that and more this fiscal year – executing 22 project reviews at a total cost of $166,000.

The Section 408 program provides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permission to grant another party the approval to alter a Civil Works project upon a determination that the alteration proposed will not be injurious to the public interest and will not impair the usefulness of the Civil Works project.

“It’s a permit process but it’s less about the ‘waters of the United States’ and more about our federal projects,” Colin Smalley, Chicago District Section 408 coordinator, said. “USACE issues Section 408 permits in order to protect the federal investment in infrastructure and ecosystem restorations that we have constructed over the years, while allowing nearby development or improvements that overlap or interface with Corps projects.”

A recently completed Section 408 permit was to authorize a new bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River that will connect the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods and, according to Smalley, that hasn’t been done in a long time.

“USACE needed to review this project because we were authorized by Congress to maintain a navigable channel in the North Branch of the Chicago River below Addison Street,” Smalley said. “And so we ensured through the Section 408 process that the proposed new bridge would not restrict our ability to maintain the channel in the future, should the conditions warrant, and Congress appropriates funds to do so. We reviewed the engineering plans in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard.”

For 408s, there are certain evaluation factors that are used. Proposed alterations are assessed to determine impacts to the usefulness of the USACE project.

“The objective of this determination is to ensure that the proposed alteration will not limit the ability of the USACE project to function as authorized and will not compromise or change any authorized project conditions, purposes, or outputs,” Smalley said. “All appropriate technical analyses including geotechnical, structural, hydraulic and hydrologic, real estate, construction, and operations and maintenance requirements, are conducted, and the technical adequacy of the design is reviewed.”

The Section 408 process, by law, is supposed to take no more than 120 days from when USACE has all the information it needs to reach a decision.

In January and May of 2021, USACE conducted two Section 408 reviews for requests at the Green Bay Harbor Navigation Project, Cat Island Dredged Material Management Facility aimed at helping the piping plover bird species.

“We’ve known about the birds at Cat Island since they first nested there,” he said. “We work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) on both the operations side of the house and as a 408 applicant.”

One request, from researchers at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, included installing bird tracking equipment on an existing infrastructure, and temporarily placing planks on the dredged material to access nesting areas.

“The Cat Island project is one where we built the causeway and now we’re filling it in with the material we dredge from Green Bay Harbor,” Smalley said. “The piping plover lay eggs in the beach sand so this location is crucial. We also worked with the USFWS and WDNR to authorize them to make some physical habitat improvements on our facility - such as adding cobble stones and fencing - to keep the habitat from eroding and to keep predators at bay.”

Right now, Smalley’s office is working with USFWS to make sure that it has the necessary Section 408 permission to perform similar habitat improvements for the piping plover nesting season that begins in March. A general permit is also being completed to allow these wildlife conservation agencies and researchers to make similar improvements for the habitat and conduct research on the facility. 

“The Chicago District completed 22 Section 408 reviews in this fiscal year, with no denials,” Smalley said. “This is the highest total in the six-year history of the Section 408 permit program. This program ensures that the taxpayers’ investments that are under USACE stewardship are protected by holding third parties to the same standards we have for our own work.”

For more information about the district’s 408 program, visit