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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
St. Paul District
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180 5th St. E., Suite 700
St. Paul, MN 55101
Phone: (651) 290-5807
Fax: (651) 290-5752
cemvp-pa@usace.army.mil 

A Corps regulator’s life: Challenges and opportunities

Published May 19, 2014

Corps regulators have many duties and responsibilities. They work with federal laws, including the Clean Water Act; Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, National Environmental Policy Act; Endangered Species Act; and National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Effectively implementing these rules requires training and experience.

The dominant day-to-day focus is implementing Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharges of dredged and fill materials in waters of the United States. This not only includes rivers and lakes, but also wetlands. Projects requiring these permit authorizations include highway construction, residential and commercial development, flood damage reduction projects, agricultural improvements, mining, commercial cranberry facilities and wetland restoration. Minnesota and Wisconsin are wetland-rich states – approximately 10.6 million acres and 5.4 million acres, respectively.

St. Paul District regulators spend about 90 percent of their day on wetland issues: delineating wetlands, determining the extent of Section 404 jurisdiction, evaluating wetland functions, identifying alternatives to minimize wetland impacts, assessing potential wetland impacts, and reviewing compensatory mitigation to offset unavoidable wetland losses. To do this, a Corps regulator needs to be proficient in, for example, interpreting aerial photography, soils mapping and topographic mapping using tools such as GIS.

Delineating wetlands (i.e., identifying the boundary between wetlands and non-wetlands) requires a special set of skills involving application of “field indicators” in accordance with the Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual (1987) and regional supplements.

The St. Paul District oversees a large system of wetland mitigation banks, which are generally larger acreage wetland mitigation sites constructed in advance of wetland impacts. In accordance with the Federal Mitigation Rule (2008), proposed mitigation bank site reviews involve a formal interagency review team with a Corps regulator as the chair. Siting, specifications in design, planting, performance standards, monitoring and long-term legal protection are scrutinized for each bank site proposal.

Senior Corps regulators serve as instructors for courses in wetland delineation, hydric soils, compensatory wetland mitigation and wetland plant identification. The St. Paul District has provided instructors for courses presented by the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and the University of Minnesota Wetland Delineator Certification Program.

At the national level, district regulators serve as a member of both the National Advisory Team for Wetland Delineation and the National Technical Committee for Wetland Vegetation. The former has drafted a new edition of the Corps wetland delineation manual, while the latter has provided guidance on implementation of the National Wetland Plant List.