New rules for how coastal-use permit holders can use the material unearthed after a dredging project are still untested after more than a month of being on the books. Coastal-use permits are required for projects that may impact coastal waters, like water-control structures, bulkheads, oil-and-gas facilities, marina developments and even residential construction. Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle says the intent of the new rule is to ensure that as much material as possible from dredging projects under state regulation is put to beneficial use. "Beneficial use" refers to taking material dredged for a project and using it to provide soil to help build or protect coastal wetlands. "We, as a state, have fought long and hard for funding and assistance in our efforts to save the coast," says Angelle. "We do not have resources to waste. These new rules are an appropriate way to make sure we balance development in our coast with maintaining the health of the coastal zone." The beneficial use rule applies to any project requiring a state coastal use permit that involves dredging 25,000 cubic yards or more to facilitate the movement or mooring of vessels. The amount of material in eligible projects has amounted to about 3 million cubic yards annually, though only about 22 percent of it was put to beneficial use under the old program. While it might sound promising on paper to conservationists, the new rule has yet to be used since it was implemented on Oct. 20. "There hasn't been an application that would trigger beneficial use rules yet," says Patrick Courreges, DNR communications director. The new rule specifically addresses how permit holders can use their dredge material and includes four options:
• Implementing a project on their own that makes beneficial use of the dredged material.
• Using the dredged material on any approved state coastal restoration project.
• Using dredged material at another location that creates the same amount of beneficial use.
• Making a voluntary contribution to the Coastal Resources Trust Fund, based on the amount and value of the material dredged.
"These changes will have two major effects on our coastal efforts," says Louis Buatt, DNR assistant secretary with the Office of Coastal Management. "It will significantly increase the performance of our beneficial use program, and the framework of the regulations will also better allow for the material, or in-lieu contributions, from several smaller projects to be combined for more comprehensive coastal restoration and protection projects." Buatt adds that under the old program limitations of transporting the material, quality of dredge material and other factors reduced the number of successful, effective projects in which beneficial use was a feasible option. Under the new regulations, the availability of feasible options for beneficial use has been expanded. The expectation is there will be an increase in the quantity and quality of beneficial use of dredged material. The new rule, with the four options, allows for greater flexibility in cases where obstacles, such as project location or dredged material quality, could prevent beneficially using the dredged material, Buatt says. — Jeremy Alford