The Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing two major changes to aquaculture permitting in the state, which officials said would open the door to larger oyster-growing operations in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and shave months off the time it takes to review them.From 12 to 18 months to a mere two month. It's really astonishing how much crap bureaucrats can cut out if they really set their mind on it, and if they are really committed to helping, rather than hindering the desired action. They must have really been against oyster aquaculture in the past.
“This is a huge step forward for this entire movement that we started six years ago,” said Johnny Shockley, a Hooper’s Island oyster farmer and aquaculture equipment manufacturer. He endured several years of bureaucratic delay state agencies as well as the Corps to obtain his permits.
The proposed changes are part of a new five-year permit governing Maryland aquaculture that the Corps intends to issue later this year. It would replace an existing regulatory scheme that expires Aug. 15.
Under the new plan, oyster farmers would no longer be limited in the size of operation for which they could seek approval. The current “Regional General Permit” for aquaculture only allows for 50 acres to cultivate oysters loose on the bottom, no more than five acres for raising bivalves in cages on the bottom, and just three acres if they’re kept in floats on the water’s surface. If oyster farmers want to work larger areas, they must apply for an individual permit -- a process that can take years and requires both public notice and a hearing.
The Corps also is proposing to allow for joint federal and state review of aquaculture projects. Now, it can take the Maryland Department of Natural Resources six months to a year to process an application to lease bottom or water for raising oysters, after which the Corps spends another 5 ½ months, on average, studying it.
The combined review proposal should reduce wait times to 60 days, according to Corps spokeswoman Sarah Gross.
“We’ve learned that there is room for improvement,” said Beth Bachur, the Baltimore District regulatory branch chief. She added that “we’ve listened to the feedback received over the past five years, and we intend to incorporate changes that will make the process more efficient.”