Bridge Permit (13-FD-c)
Note: If the bridge crosses international waters, the permit will be issued pursuant to the International Bridge Act of 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 535, and additional procedures may be required.
A bridge permit is written approval of the location and plans of the bridge. Bridge Permit Application Guide, 1. Permitting authority for bridges is found in several statutes, including Section 9 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, 33 U.S.C. § 401, The Bridge Act of 1906, 33 U.S.C. §§ 491 - 498, and The General Bridge Act of 1946, 33 U.S.C. §§ 525 - 533. Today, The General Bridge Act of 1946, 33 U.S.C. §§ 525 - 533 is cited as the authority for bridge permits in most cases. USCG regulations implementing these statutes and governing the bridge permit application process can be found at 33 C.F.R. § 114 and 33 C.F.R. § 115.
Bridge Permit Process
USCG bridge permits are only required when the bridge crosses a navigable waters of the United States. Navigable waters for Coast Guard bridge permitting purposes are defined by 33 CFR 2.36 to include:
- Territorial seas of the United States;
- Internal wasters of the United States subject to tidal influence; and
- Internal water of the United States not subject to tidal influence that:
- Are or have been used, or are or haven been susceptible for use, by themselves or in connection with other waters, as highways for substantial interstate or foreign commerce, notwithstanding natural or man-made obstructions that require portage, or
- A governmental or non-governmental body, having expertise in waterway improvement, determines to be capable of improvement at a reasonable cost (a favorable balance between cost and need) to provide, by themselves or in connection with other waters, as highways for substantial interstate or foreign commerce.
The developer should contact the applicable USCG District Bridge Office to determine whether the proposed bridge will cross navigable waters of the United States, as defined above.
13-FD-c.3 to 13-FD-c.7 – Contact USCG District Bridge Office; Will the Bridge Cross an Advance Approval Waterway?
The developer should contact the applicable USCG District Bridge Office, if it has not already done so, to initiate the permitting process. During the initial contact, the developer should ask the USCG to determine if the proposed project crosses an advance approval waterway.
Although The General Bridge Act of 1946 requires the USCG to approve the location and plans of bridges prior to construction, 33 CFR 115.70 provides advance approval for bridges across “reaches of waterways navigable in law, but not actually navigated other than by logs, log rafts, rowboats, canoes and small motorboats.” Clearances provided for high water stages are sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of navigation. The developer should notify the District Bridge Manager before undertaking construction to ensure that the waterway has received advance approval. If the proposed project crosses an advance approval waterway, the USCG will issue a verification statement, and the developer may continue with the project without obtaining a permit. See 33 CFR 115.70; The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-9.
13-FD-c.8 – Hold Preliminary Discussions
Once a bridge has been proposed, the USCG begins preliminary discussions with the developer. During the discussions, the USCG provides the developer with an application package and points of contact. Preliminary discussions allow the USCG to acquaint the developer with guide clearances, environmental considerations, and other factors affecting the design and location of the proposed bridge. See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-10. The USCG may also facilitate meetings between the developer and interested parties. See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-10.
13-FD-c.9 to 13-FD-c.14 – Application Package; Review Application Material for Completeness; Appeal to Commandant
Applications for authorization to construct bridges across navigable waters of the United States must be submitted to the USCG District Bridge Office with jurisdiction over the area of the proposed bridge site. The application package must contain a cover letter, permit plans, and an environmental evaluation. Specifically, the application should include:
- Identifying information;
- The waterway and location of the bridge;
- The legal authority for the proposed action (typically the General Bridge Act of 1946);
- If the bridge crosses a navigable waterway located entirely within one state, a copy of the state law under which it will be built;
- A map of the location and plans of the bridge showing the features which affect navigation (including details of the bridge protective system and bridge lighting plan, if necessary);
- A navigation evaluation; and
- Environmental evaluations (including a summary of any NEPA analyses conducted by other federal agencies).
Once the USCG receives the application, the District Commander reviews it for sufficiency. The District commander also verifies the authority for construction of the bridge, ascertains the views of local authorities and other interested parties, and ensures the developer complies with all environmental laws, regulations, and orders. If the application is adequate, the District Commander begins processing the permit. If not, the District Commander notifies the developer that the application is defective and provides the developer with an explanation of why the application is defective. If the application is simply incomplete, the District Commander may allow the developer to revise it. If the application is denied, the developer may request that the Commandant of the USCG review the application. See 33 CFR 115.60.
13-FD-c.15 to 13-FD-c.19 – Issue Public Notice Describing Proposed Bridge Project; Comment on Application; State Section 401 Water Quality Certification Process
If the application is not defective, or if the developer has requested the Commandant review the application, the USCG issues a public notice within 30 days of the receipt of the application describing the proposed bridge project. See 33 CFR 115.60; The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-15.
A copy of the notice should be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the implementing state agency responsible for issuing water quality certifications (WQCs). The implementing agency must approve or deny the WQC within 30 days, or the requirement is waived. However, the implementing agency may request additional time to review the WQC if necessary. See 33 CFR 115.60. For more information regarding the section 401 WQC process, see the appropriate state WQC flowchart.
In addition, information contained in the public notice should be included in a Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) to obtain wider dissemination among waterway users. See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-15. For a list of items that must be included in the public notice, see The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-15 to 4-17. The public notice required by 33 CFR 115.60 may also serve as the public notice required to initiate the NEPA process if the USCG is not adopting another agency’s analysis.
After the public notice has been issued, the public normally has 30 days to submit written responses (more or less time may be allowed under special circumstances). See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-15. All written comments received during the comment period are fully considered and made a part of the administrative record. See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 4-15.
13-FD-c.20 – Hold Public Hearing, if Necessary
Public meetings are held when there are substantial issues related to the effects the bridge will have on navigation or the environment. See 33 CFR 115.60(b)(1); The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, pages 4-17 to 4-18. The USCG must publish notice of the meetings in the Federal Register and mailed to known interested parties. The meetings are public, conducted in an informal manner, and anyone who wishes to speak or submit written comments may do so. See 33 CFR 115.60(b)(2)-(3).
13-FD-c.21 to 13-FD-c.23 – Site Evaluation; Complete NEPA Process
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposed actions and any reasonable alternatives before undertaking a major federal action. The issuance of a permit by a federal agency is considered a major federal action. Consequently, a NEPA analysis must be performed before the USCG can issue a bridge permit.
Bridge projects are often part of a larger project that also requires a NEPA analysis by another federal agency. In some cases, the USCG can adopt all or part of the other federal agency’s analysis. If another federal agency has already performed a NEPA analysis, it should be submitted with the application package. See The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, page 3-3.
In addition to NEPA, numerous other federal requirements must be satisfied before a bridge permit can be obtained. Many of these requirements are outlined in the site evaluation section of this roadmap. See Site Evaluation Process:
10. The Bridge Permit Application Guide also contains a list of environmental documentation requirements, including those related to:
- The Clean Water Act (CWA);
- The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZM);
- Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA);
- The Endangered Species Act (ESA);
- Essential fish habitat under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act;
- The Noise Control Act of 1972;
- The Clean Air Act (CAA);
- The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970; and
- The Farmlands Protection Policy Act of 1982 (FPPA)
For a complete list and explanations of environmental documentation requirements for bridge permits, see the Bridge Permit Application Guide, pages 23-35.
13-FD-c.24 to 13-FD-c.27 – Investigate Request for Bridge Permit; Findings of Fact (FOF)
After the close of the public comment period, the District Commander conducts an investigation into the possible impacts of the proposed project on navigation and the human environment. The District Commander documents the findings of the investigation in a detailed statement of findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on all available information. See 33 CFR 115.60(c). The following factors should be discussed in the District Commander’s report:
- A Comparison of the proposed bridge with existing bridges over the waterway; attitude of local authorities; summary of objections raised by the public, and District Commander's comments or responses; probable effect on navigation, present and prospective;
- A Description of the navigation on the waterway past the site of the proposed bridge, the number and type of vessels, the number of vessel trips, and the principal method of handling traffic, whether in single vessels or in tows; and
- Whether the District Commander approves, or recommends approval of the plans. If they are found objectionable, the reasons for this finding will be stated. If there are objectionable features in the plans which may be corrected, the applicant is given an opportunity to revise them. If approval is given or recommended, all conditions to which the permit should be subject will be stated.
If the permitting responsibility has not been delegated to the District Commander in accordance with 33 CFR 1.01-60(b), the application, case files, findings of fact, and recommendations must be forwarded to Commandant. All of these documents should be included in the case file. A summary of the required contents of the case file can be found in the The USCG Bridge Administration Manual, pages 4-19 to 4-21.
13-FD-c.28 to 13-FD-c.35 – Is the Permit Been Approved?; Notify Developer of Disapproval; Is Reconsideration Appropriate?; Bridge Permit
The District Commander may issue or deny the permit once the investigation is complete if authorized to do so by 33 CFR 1.01-60(b). Otherwise, the Commandant must review the application and the District Commander’s report. After the review, the Commandant issues or denies the permit. See 33 CFR 115.60(d)(1).
If the application is approved, the issuing official signs the permit and sends it to the developer. If the application is not approved, the application is returned to the developer with an explanation of the disapproval, as well as suggested modifications that would justify reconsideration, if appropriate. See 33 CFR 115.60(d)(2)-(3).
If the District Commander disapproves the application, the developer may appeal the decision to the Commandant in accordance with 33 CFR 114.50.
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- Section 9 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899
- The Bridge Act of 1906
- The General Bridge Act of 1946
- International Bridge Act of 1972
- Coastal Zone Management Act
- Farmlands Protection Policy Act of 1982
- Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970
- The Noise Control Act of 1972
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- 33 CFR 115
- 33 CFR 114
- 33 CFR 2.36
- 33 CFR 1.01-60(b)