Not good enough.
That’s the response given Thursday by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-3rd District and other lawmakers to Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Southeast division, about the agency’s decision to ratchet up permit costs for new docks and facilities at a handful of waterways in the region.
“We believe that a number of our questions were not sufficiently answered,” Duncan and six other House members said in a letter to Holland, responding to information her office provided in July after the Army Corps of Engineers announced its first planned fee increases since 2006. Lakes Hartwell and Thurmond are among those where rates are set to change.
Currently, new development permits cost $400, with a re-issue permit set at $175. Under revised guidelines to kick in Jan. 1, both of those rates will jump to $835.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers went public in June with news of the upcoming hikes, catching Duncan and other lawmakers off-guard.
The rate, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will:
• Allow projects to meet acceptable levels of customer service and regulatory compliance to ensure good stewardship of public lands.
• Allow for investment in automated tools to improve timely and efficient license issuance and database maintenance consistently within the region.
• Ensure that the individual benefiting from the use of public property bears the cost incurred by the government for issuing these instruments.
Days after learning of the adjustments, Duncan and others in Congress pushed Holland for answers, setting a June 28 deadline to respond to four questions: Providing justification for the hikes, an explanation of the process used to set the figure, and why public input was not included, an explanation about why the increases weren’t phased in and why a renewal permit should be as expensive as applying for a new one.
Holland responded as she was asked.
“As responsible stewards of public property, we can no longer continue to rely as heavily on taxpayer dollars when there is no public benefit,” Holland said, explaining that the shoreline management permits are for “individual private use on public property.”
And gathering public input “would not change the costs to the government of issuing a license,” Holland said. “It is our position that the better investment in public engagement is a public information campaign to explain the fee change and why it is necessary.”
Similarly, a gradual uptick in the fee would expose non-permit users to added costs.
“When the Corps captures anything less than the whole cost of administration, the remainder must be supplemented by the budget amount meant to deliver other services,” Holland said.
Duncan and other Southeastern lawmakers want to know more:
• Explain why an assessment by the staffs at the Corps reservoirs within SAD (South Atlantic Division) of administrative fees to cover administrative expenses was initiated in 2006 but no decision on a revised fee schedule was made for 13 years
• The Corps left the fee schedule unchanged for more than a decade and then decided to increase the amount exponentially. Explain why a more gradual phase-in to increase fees was not implemented
• Explain why the Corps did not follow required notice and comment procedures under U.S. Code Chapter 5, Section 553
• Explain how your office implemented a public information campaign to explain the revised real estate administrative fee schedule and why it was necessary
• Provide evidence to justify the fee amount of $835 for all these expenses.
“Please be specific showing the study that the USACE did to arrive at this number, including evidence that the administrative burden for new permits, modifying permits and reviewing permits is the exact same,” the letter concludes.
In addition to the two South Carolina lakes, nine other waterways in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia would be affected by the new fees.
Army Corps officials said the adjusted rates will remain in place for five years when they’ll be reevaluated to “avoid significant price increases in the future.”
Officials have given Holland a Sept. 9 deadline to reply.