Presented on this page are some useful tips when planning a project which may require permits from IDEM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Following these tips can reduce confusion, help you keep and meet deadlines, and alert you to potential problems early in the process. IDEM will not guarantee that if you follow all of the following tips that you will automatically receive approvals from the agency, but these tips will help you avoid common problems and situations encountered in the permitting process.
1. Avoid problems by avoiding impacts to wetlands and streams
A simple way to avoid delays and potential additional expense is to simply avoid impacts to wetlands, streams, lakes, and other regulated water resources. You should not begin to plan or lay out your site/development until you have had a wetland delineation completed and verified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Design your project in a manner that conserves and protects wetlands, streams, lakes, river, and other regulated waterbodies, not in a manner that proposes impacts to them.
Early in the planning process, after you have had a wetland delineation completed and have identified wetlands and other regulated waterbodies on your site, review your plans and ask yourself questions such as: "How can we avoid filling wetlands?" "Can we avoid this stream relocation/crossing?" and still meet the needs of the project?
In many cases options exist that allow you to reconfigure buildings/layouts on a site in a manner that will avoid impacts to wetlands, streams, lakes, and other regulated Waters. Any money you spend to re-design your site plans to avoid impacts to regulated water resources may be money you save later. Specifically, by avoiding impacts to wetlands, streams, lakes, and other regulated areas, you will gain huge benefits; first, you may not need to get permits if you simply avoid wetlands and waterbodies. Second, you will save time and effort by not having to budget for, plan, engineer, build, plant, and monitor wetland and stream mitigation, which is required for almost all impacts to wetlands and streams. Last, if you don't avoid impacts to these regulated water resources, IDEM will require you to demonstrate avoidance. This is much easier to do early in the process, not days before you are scheduled to build.
2. Use your head
The best tool you have available is your head. Think about how best to structure your project before filling out application forms or before beginning work:
- Use your eyes - walk the project site and look for wetlands or other waterbodies. If you think areas might be wetlands, have them checked by a qualified wetland scientist. Don't move forward with your project until you are sure that wetlands, if present, are noted on your plans. You will encounter significant delays and fines if you work in wetlands, streams, lakes, or other regulated waters without proper permits.
- Use your ears - listen to the suggestions given by professionals from federal, state, and local agencies. Our job is to ensure that you comply with the laws and that your project will not detrimentally affect or be harmful to the environment. You may receive information which helps you work better with highly erodible soils, avoid wetlands, and handle storm water in a more effective manner. IDEM staff are here to assist you and provide suggestions on how to design the best project for you and the environment.
- Use your mouth - Ask questions. If you don't understand permit conditions, ask us for clarification. IDEM staff are trained experts and are here to explain the rules and laws, give you technical suggestions, and assist with compliance and project implementation. And best of all, IDEM staff expertise is free.
3. Recognize and Plan for Potential Problems
It is important to not only know what aspects of your project may have a significant impact on water resources, but it is important to know when you need permits. You will need a Section 401 Water Quality Certification if your project involves any of the following:
- Filling a wetland
- Excavating a wetland
- Mechanical clearing in a wetland (using heavy equipment such as bulldozers to remove or clear trees and stumps)
- Constructing a pond in a wetland
- Stabilizing a streambank or shoreline
- Relocating a stream
- Constructing a roadway, bridge or other pedestrian/vehicle crossing in or over a stream
- Constructing, refacing, or repairing any seawall
- Constructing an underwater beach
- Filling out into a lake, stream, or river
- Dredging a wetland, stream, lake, or river
- Dredging or excavation of any potentially contaminated sediments.
- Sand, gravel, peat, or other related mining activity within any waterbody.
- Channelizing or removing meanders from any stream, ditch, or river.
- Excavating a stream to construct in-stream stormwater detention/retention.
- Construction of any type of permanent or temporary dam, causeway, or other related structure.
The previous list of activities is NOT all-inclusive. There are other activities that trigger the need for Section 401 Water Quality Certification from IDEM and a Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the aforementioned activities are more common.
The previous list of regulated activities can involve or contribute to adverse impacts to water quality. You must be able to demonstrate to IDEM how your project is avoiding and minimizing impacts associated with all regulated activities.
4. Request an Early Coordination Meeting with IDEM staff
If your project is large, complex, or has the potential to impact sensitive areas, you should contact IDEM staff to discuss the project well in advance of your proposed project start date.
Referred to as pre-application meetings, IDEM staff can review plans forwarded via email or U.S. mail, and, as time allows, can meet you or your environmental consultants on-site to discuss potential issues or problems. It is strongly recommended that you contact IDEM's project managers to arrange a pre-application meeting or begin a discussion on a project. By knowing the issues that will be raised in a permit review, you will be able to plan to address them in your project plan.
Be aware that IDEM staff will reiterate to you that you must avoid impacts to sensitive areas such as wetlands, minimize impacts in and along streams, and will advise you when your proposed impacts will require you to develop a compensatory mitigation plan to replace wetlands, streams, or other resources impacted by your project. IDEM project managers will also inform you if your project involves potential impacts which are unpermittable. This allows you to rethink your project and remove those aspects from the plan early in the process.
IDEM has created an entire page devoted to assisting you with the Early Coordination process and to provide you with information on the best ways to coordinate with IDEM.
5. Apply for Permits Early
The most common mistake made by applicants is to wait until the last minute to apply for permits. IDEM and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have time frames and requirements which are mandated by law and these timeframes cannot be accelerated to accommodate your schedule. For example, IDEM must public notice the receipt of an application for a site-specific Individual Section 401 Water Quality Certification and the public notice period must run for 21 days.
Additionally, when IDEM does approve a site-specific Individual Section 401 Water Quality Certification, the decision does not become effective until 18 days have passed; this 18-day period allows for a mandated appeals period in which aggrieved parties, or you, can appeal the Certification approval.
IDEM recommends that you apply for permits for small projects at least 4 months in advance of when you hope to begin construction and as much as 10-12 months in advance if your project involves impacts to large areas of wetlands or significant impacts to streams (e.g. stream relocations, impacts greater than 300 linear feet, etc.) Applying early has the additional benefit that if IDEM or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have any significant concerns about your project, you will have time to revise and adjust your plans accordingly.
6. Be prepared to be asked for information
Some applicants incur delays when they are asked to provide additional information for review by IDEM or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, you should be prepared to have available:
- a copy of your wetland delineation and correspondence from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating the jurisdiction of the wetlands on the site and that they concur with your delineation
- plans/maps showing where your project is located
- plans/maps showing the current site layout
- plans/maps showing your proposed site layout – impacts should be clearly laid out
- cross-sections showing existing conditions and proposed impacts
In addition, if you are proposing work along or in streams and rivers, you may be required to submit copies of mussel surveys, sediment sampling tests, and plans which show areas of bank stabilization and tree clearing.