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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR Data is current as of July 28, 2014

Title 33: Navigation and Navigable Waters


PART 331—ADMINISTRATIVE APPEAL PROCESS


Contents
§331.1   Purpose and policy.
§331.2   Definitions.
§331.3   Review officer.
§331.4   Notification of appealable actions.
§331.5   Criteria.
§331.6   Filing an appeal.
§331.7   Review procedures.
§331.8   Timeframes for final appeal decisions.
§331.9   Final appeal decision.
§331.10   Final Corps decision.
§331.11   Unauthorized activities.
§331.12   Exhaustion of administrative remedies.
Appendix A to Part 331—Administrative Appeal Process for Permit Denials and Proffered Permits
Appendix B to Part 331—Applicant Options With Initial Proffered Permit
Appendix C to Part 331—Administrative Appeal Process for Approved Jurisdictional Determinations
Appendix D to Part 331—Process for Unacceptable Request for Appeal

Authority: 33 U.S.C. 401 et seq., 1344, 1413.

Source: 65 FR 16493, Mar. 28, 2000, unless otherwise noted.

§331.1   Purpose and policy.

(a) General. The purpose of this part is to establish policies and procedures to be used for the administrative appeal of approved jurisdictional determinations (JDs), permit applications denied with prejudice, and declined permits. The appeal process will allow the affected party to pursue an administrative appeal of certain Corps of Engineers decisions with which they disagree. The basis for an appeal and the specific policies and procedures of the appeal process are described in the following sections. It shall be the policy of the Corps of Engineers to promote and maintain an administrative appeal process that is independent, objective, fair, prompt, and efficient.

(b) Level of decision maker. Appealable actions decided by a division engineer or higher authority may be appealed to an Army official at least one level higher than the decision maker. This higher Army official shall make the decision on the merits of the appeal, and may appoint a qualified individual to act as a review officer (as defined in §331.2). References to the division engineer in this part shall be understood as also referring to a higher level Army official when such official is conducting an administrative appeal.

§331.2   Definitions.

The terms and definitions contained in 33 CFR Parts 320 through 330 are applicable to this part. In addition, the following terms are defined for the purposes of this part:

Affected party means a permit applicant, landowner, a lease, easement or option holder (i.e., an individual who has an identifiable and substantial legal interest in the property) who has received an approved JD, permit denial, or has declined a proffered individual permit.

Agent(s) means the affected party's business partner, attorney, consultant, engineer, planner, or any individual with legal authority to represent the appellant's interests.

Appealable action means an approved JD, a permit denial, or a declined permit, as these terms are defined in this section.

Appellant means an affected party who has filed an appeal of an approved JD, a permit denial or declined permit under the criteria and procedures of this part.

Approved jurisdictional determination means a Corps document stating the presence or absence of waters of the United States on a parcel or a written statement and map identifying the limits of waters of the United States on a parcel. Approved JDs are clearly designated appealable actions and will include a basis of JD with the document.

Basis of jurisdictional determination is a summary of the indicators that support the Corps approved JD. Indicators supporting the Corps approved JD can include, but are not limited to: indicators of wetland hydrology, hydric soils, and hydrophytic plant communities; indicators of ordinary high water marks, high tide lines, or mean high water marks; indicators of adjacency to navigable or interstate waters; indicators that the wetland or waterbody is of part of a tributary system; or indicators of linkages between isolated water bodies and interstate or foreign commerce.

Declined permit means a proffered individual permit, including a letter of permission, that an applicant has refused to accept, because he has objections to the terms and special conditions therein. A declined permit can also be an individual permit that the applicant originally accepted, but where such permit was subsequently modified by the district engineer, pursuant to 33 CFR 325.7, in such a manner that the resulting permit contains terms and special conditions that lead the applicant to decline the modified permit, provided that the applicant has not started work in waters of the United States authorized by such permit. Where an applicant declines a permit (either initial or modified), the applicant does not have a valid permit to conduct regulated activities in waters of the United States, and must not begin construction of the work requiring a Corps permit unless and until the applicant receives and accepts a valid Corps permit.

Denial determination means a letter from the district engineer detailing the reasons a permit was denied with prejudice. The decision document for the project will be attached to the denial determination in all cases.

Jurisdictional determination (JD) means a written Corps determination that a wetland and/or waterbody is subject to regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) or a written determination that a waterbody is subject to regulatory jurisdiction under Section 9 or 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. 401 et seq.). Additionally, the term includes a written reverification of expired JDs and a written reverification of JDs where new information has become available that may affect the previously written determination. For example, such geographic JDs may include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following determinations: the presence or absence of wetlands; the location(s) of the wetland boundary, ordinary high water mark, mean high water mark, and/or high tide line; interstate commerce nexus for isolated waters; and adjacency of wetlands to other waters of the United States. All JDs will be in writing and will be identified as either preliminary or approved. JDs do not include determinations that a particular activity requires a DA permit.

Notification of Appeal Process (NAP) means a fact sheet that explains the criteria and procedures of the administrative appeal process. Every approved JD, permit denial, and every proffered individual permit returned for reconsideration after review by the district engineer in accordance with §331.6(b) will have an NAP form attached.

Notification of Applicant Options (NAO) means a fact sheet explaining an applicant's options with a proffered individual permit under the administrative appeal process.

Permit denial means a written denial with prejudice (see 33 CFR 320.4(j)) of an individual permit application as defined in 33 CFR 325.5(b).

Preliminary JDs are written indications that there may be waters of the United States on a parcel or indications of the approximate location(s) of waters of the United States on a parcel. Preliminary JDs are advisory in nature and may not be appealed. Preliminary JDs include compliance orders that have an implicit JD, but no approved JD.

Proffered permit means a permit that is sent to an applicant that is in the proper format for the applicant to sign (for a standard permit) or accept (for a letter of permission). The term “initial proffered permit” as used in this part refers to the first time a permit is sent to the applicant. The initial proffered permit is not an appealable action. However, the applicant may object to the terms or conditions of the initial proffered permit and, if so, a second reconsidered permit will be sent to the applicant. The term “proffered permit” as used in this part refers to the second permit that is sent to the applicant. Such proffered permit is an appealable action.

Request for appeal (RFA) means the affected party's official request to initiate the appeal process. The RFA must include the name of the affected party, the Corps file number of the approved JD, denied permit, or declined permit, the reason(s) for the appeal, and any supporting data and information. No new information may be submitted. A grant of right of entry for the Corps to the project site is a condition of the RFA to allow the RO to clarify elements of the record or to conduct field tests or sampling for purposes directly related to the appeal. A standard RFA form will be provided to the affected party with the NAP form. For appeals of decisions related to unauthorized activities a signed tolling agreement, as required by 33 CFR 326.3(e)(1)(v), must be included with the RFA, unless a signed tolling agreement has previously been furnished to the Corps district office. The affected party initiates the administrative appeal process by providing an acceptable RFA to the appropriate Corps of Engineers division office. An acceptable RFA contains all the required information and provides reasons for appeal that meets the criteria identified in §331.5.

Review officer (RO) means the Corps official responsible for assisting the division engineer or higher authority responsible for rendering the final decision on the merits of an appeal.

Tolling agreement refers to a document signed by any person who appeals an approved JD associated with an unauthorized activity or applies for an after-the-fact (ATF) permit, where the application is accepted and evaluated by the Corps. The agreement states that the affected party agrees to have the statute of limitations regarding any violation associated with that approved JD or application “tolled” or temporarily set aside until one year after the final Corps decision, as defined at §331.10. No ATF permit application or administrative appeal associated with an unauthorized activity will be accepted until a tolling agreement is furnished to the district engineer.

§331.3   Review officer.

(a) Authority. (1) The division engineer has the authority and responsibility for administering a fair, reasonable, prompt, and effective administrative appeal process. The division engineer may act as the review officer (RO), or may delegate, either generically or on a case-by-case basis, any authority or responsibility described in this part as that of the RO. With the exception of JDs, as described in this paragraph (a)(1), the division engineer may not delegate any authority or responsibility described in this part as that of the division engineer. For approved JDs only, the division engineer may delegate any authority or responsibility described in this part as that of the division engineer, including the final appeal decision. In such cases, any delegated authority must be granted to an official that is at the same or higher grade level than the grade level of the official that signed the approved JD. Regardless of any delegation of authority or responsibility for ROs or for final appeal decisions for approved JDs, the division engineer retains overall responsibility for the administrative appeal process.

(2) The RO will assist the division engineer in reaching and documenting the division engineer's decision on the merits of an appeal, if the division engineer has delegated this responsibility as explained in paragraph (a)(1) of this section. The division engineer has the authority to make the final decision on the merits of the appeal. Neither the RO nor the division engineer has the authority to make a final decision to issue or deny any particular permit nor to make an approved JD, pursuant to the administrative appeal process established by this part. The authority to issue or deny permits remains with the district engineer. However, the division engineer may exercise the authority at 33 CFR 325.8(c) to elevate any permit application, and subsequently make the final permit decision. In such a case, any appeal process of the district engineer's initial decision is terminated. If a particular permit application is elevated to the division engineer pursuant to 33 CFR 325.8(c), and the division engineer's decision on the permit application is a permit denial or results in a declined permit, that permit denial or declined permit would be subject to an administrative appeal to the Chief of Engineers.

(3) Qualifications. The RO will be a Corps employee with extensive knowledge of the Corps regulatory program. Where the permit decision being appealed was made by the division engineer or higher authority, a Corps official at least one level higher than the decision maker shall make the decision on the merits of the RFA, and this Corps official shall appoint a qualified individual as the RO to conduct the appeal process.

(b) General—(1) Independence. The RO will not perform, or have been involved with, the preparation, review, or decision making of the action being appealed. The RO will be independent and impartial in reviewing any appeal, and when assisting the division engineer to make a decision on the merits of the appeal.

(2) Review. The RO will conduct an independent review of the administrative record to address the reasons for the appeal cited by the applicant in the RFA. In addition, to the extent that it is practicable and feasible, the RO will also conduct an independent review of the administrative record to verify that the record provides an adequate and reasonable basis supporting the district engineer's decision, that facts or analysis essential to the district engineer's decision have not been omitted from the administrative record, and that all relevant requirements of law, regulations, and officially promulgated Corps policy guidance have been satisfied. Should the RO require expert advice regarding any subject, he may seek such advice from any employee of the Corps or of another Federal or state agency, or from any recognized expert, so long as that person had not been previously involved in the action under review.

§331.4   Notification of appealable actions.

Affected parties will be notified in writing of a Corps decision on those activities that are eligible for an appeal. For approved JDs, the notification must include an NAP fact sheet, an RFA form, and a basis of JD. For permit denials, the notification must include a copy of the decision document for the permit application, an NAP fact sheet and an RFA form. For proffered individual permits, when the initial proffered permit is sent to the applicant, the notification must include an NAO fact sheet. For declined permits (i.e., proffered individual permits that the applicant refuses to accept and sends back to the Corps), the notification must include an NAP fact sheet and an RFA form. Additionally, an affected party has the right to obtain a copy of the administrative record.

§331.5   Criteria.

(a) Criteria for appeal—(1) Submission of RFA. The appellant must submit a completed RFA (as defined at §331.2) to the appropriate division office in order to appeal an approved JD, a permit denial, or a declined permit. An individual permit that has been signed by the applicant, and subsequently unilaterally modified by the district engineer pursuant to 33 CFR 325.7, may be appealed under this process, provided that the applicant has not started work in waters of the United States authorized by the permit. The RFA must be received by the division engineer within 60 days of the date of the NAP.

(2) Reasons for appeal. The reason(s) for requesting an appeal of an approved JD, a permit denial, or a declined permit must be specifically stated in the RFA and must be more than a simple request for appeal because the affected party did not like the approved JD, permit decision, or the permit conditions. Examples of reasons for appeals include, but are not limited to, the following: A procedural error; an incorrect application of law, regulation or officially promulgated policy; omission of material fact; incorrect application of the current regulatory criteria and associated guidance for identifying and delineating wetlands; incorrect application of the Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines (see 40 CFR part 230); or use of incorrect data. The reasons for appealing a permit denial or a declined permit may include jurisdiction issues, whether or not a previous approved JD was appealed.

(b) Actions not appealable. An action or decision is not subject to an administrative appeal under this part if it falls into one or more of the following categories:

(1) An individual permit decision (including a letter of permission or a standard permit with special conditions), where the permit has been accepted and signed by the permittee. By signing the permit, the applicant waives all rights to appeal the terms and conditions of the permit, unless the authorized work has not started in waters of the United States and that issued permit is subsequently modified by the district engineer pursuant to 33 CFR 325.7;

(2) Any site-specific matter that has been the subject of a final decision of the Federal courts;

(3) A final Corps decision that has resulted from additional analysis and evaluation, as directed by a final appeal decision;

(4) A permit denial without prejudice or a declined permit, where the controlling factor cannot be changed by the Corps decision maker (e.g., the requirements of a binding statute, regulation, state Section 401 water quality certification, state coastal zone management disapproval, etc. (See 33 CFR 320.4(j));

(5) A permit denial case where the applicant has subsequently modified the proposed project, because this would constitute an amended application that would require a new public interest review, rather than an appeal of the existing record and decision;

(6) Any request for the appeal of an approved JD, a denied permit, or a declined permit where the RFA has not been received by the division engineer within 60 days of the date of the NAP;

(7) A previously approved JD that has been superceded by another approved JD based on new information or data submitted by the applicant. The new approved JD is an appealable action;

(8) An approved JD associated with an individual permit where the permit has been accepted and signed by the permittee;

(9) A preliminary JD; or

(10) A JD associated with unauthorized activities except as provided in §331.11.

§331.6   Filing an appeal.

(a) An affected party appealing an approved JD, permit denial or declined permit must submit an RFA that is received by the division engineer within 60 days of the date of the NAP. Flow charts illustrating the appeal process are in the Appendices of this part.

(b) In the case where an applicant objects to an initial proffered individual permit, the appeal process proceeds as follows. To initiate the appeal process regarding the terms and special conditions of the permit, the applicant must write a letter to the district engineer explaining his objections to the permit. The district engineer, upon evaluation of the applicant's objections, may: Modify the permit to address all of the applicant's objections or modify the permit to address some, but not all, of the applicant's objections, or not modify the permit, having determined that the permit should be issued as previously written. In the event that the district engineer agrees to modify the initial proffered individual permit to address all of the applicant's objections, the district engineer will proffer such modified permit to the applicant, enclosing an NAP fact sheet and an RFA form as well. Should the district engineer modify the initial proffered individual permit to address some, but not all, of the applicant's objections, the district engineer will proffer such modified permit to the applicant, enclosing an NAP fact sheet, RFA form, and a copy of the decision document for the project. If the district engineer does not modify the initial proffered individual permit, the district engineer will proffer the unmodified permit to the applicant a second time, enclosing an NAP fact sheet, an RFA form, and a copy of the decision document. If the applicant still has objections, after receiving the second proffered permit (modified or unmodified), the applicant may decline such proffered permit; this declined permit may be appealed to the division engineer upon submittal of a complete RFA form. The completed RFA must be received by the division engineer within 60 days of the NAP. A flow chart of an applicant's options for an initial proffered individual permit is shown in appendix B of this part. A flow chart of the appeal process for a permit denial or a declined permit (i.e., a proffered permit declined after the Corps decision on the applicant's objections to the initial proffered permit) is shown in appendix A of this part. A flow chart of the appeal process for an approved jurisdictional determination is shown in appendix C of this part. A flow chart of the process for when an unacceptable request for appeal is returned to an applicant is shown in appendix D of this part.

(c) An approved JD will be reconsidered by the district engineer if the affected party submits new information or data to the district engineer within 60 days of the date of the NAP. (An RFA that contains new information will either be returned to the district engineer for reconsideration or the appeal will be processed if the applicant withdraws the new information.) The district engineer has 60 days from the receipt of such new information or data to review the new information or data, consider whether or not that information changes the previously approved JD, and, reissue the approved JD or issue a new approved JD. The reconsideration of an approved JD by the district engineer does not commence the administrative appeal process. The affected party may appeal the district engineer's reissued or new approved JD.

(d) The district engineer may not delegate his signature authority to deny the permit with prejudice or to return an individual permit to the applicant with unresolved objections. The district engineer may delegate signature authority for JDs, including approved JDs.

(e) Affected parties may appeal approved JDs where the determination was dated after March 28, 2000, but may not appeal approved JDs dated on or before March 28, 2000. The Corps will begin processing JD appeals no later than May 30, 2000. All appeals must meet the criteria set forth in §331.5. If work is authorized by either general or individual permit, and the affected party wishes to request an appeal of the JD associated with the general permit authorization or individual permit or the special conditions of the proffered individual permit, the appeal must be received by the Corps and the appeal process concluded prior to the commencement of any work in waters of the United States and prior to any work that could alter the hydrology of waters of the United States.

§331.7   Review procedures.

(a) General. The administrative appeal process for approved JDs, permit denials, and declined permits is a one level appeal, normally to the division engineer. The appeal process will normally be conducted by the RO. The RO will document the appeal process, and assist the division engineer in making a decision on the merits of the appeal. The division engineer may participate in the appeal process as the division engineer deems appropriate. The division engineer will make the decision on the merits of the appeal, and provide any instructions, as appropriate, to the district engineer.

(b) Requests for the appeal of approved JDs, permit denials, or declined permits. Upon receipt of an RFA, the RO shall review the RFA to determine whether the RFA is acceptable (i.e., complete and meets the criteria for appeal). If the RFA is acceptable, the RO will so notify the appellant in writing within 30 days of the receipt of the acceptable RFA. If the RO determines that the RFA is not complete the RO will so notify the appellant in writing within 30 days of the receipt of the RFA detailing the reason(s) why the RFA is not complete. If the RO believes that the RFA does not meet the criteria for appeal (see §331.5), the RO will make a recommendation on the RFA to the division engineer. If the division engineer determines that the RFA is not acceptable, the division engineer will notify the appellant of this determination by a certified letter detailing the reason(s) why the appeal failed to meet the criteria for appeal. No further administrative appeal is available, unless the appellant revises the RFA to correct the deficiencies noted in the division engineer's letter or the RO's letter. The revised RFA must be received by the division engineer within 30 days of the date of the Corps letter indicating that the initial RFA is not acceptable. If the RO determines that the revised RFA is still not complete, the RO will again so notify the appellant in writing within 30 days of the receipt of the RFA detailing the reason(s) why the RFA is not complete. If the division engineer determines that the revised RFA is still not acceptable, the division engineer will notify the appellant of this determination by a certified letter within 30 days of the date of the receipt of the revised RFA, and will advise the appellant that the matter is not eligible for appeal. No further RFAs will be accepted after this point.

(c) Site investigations. Within 30 days of receipt of an acceptable RFA, the RO should determine if a site investigation is needed to clarify the administrative record. The RO should normally conduct any such site investigation within 60 days of receipt of an acceptable RFA. The RO may also conduct a site investigation at the request of the appellant, provided the RO has determined that such an investigation would be of benefit in interpreting the administrative record. The appellant and the appellant's authorized agent(s) must be provided an opportunity to participate in any site investigation, and will be given 15 days notice of any site investigation. The RO will attempt to schedule any site investigation at the earliest practicable time acceptable to both the RO and the appellant. The RO, the appellant, the appellant's agent(s) and the Corps district staff are authorized participants at any site investigation. The RO may also invite any other party the RO has determined to be appropriate, such as any technical experts consulted by the Corps. For permit denials and declined permit appeals, any site investigation should be scheduled in conjunction with the appeal review conference, where practicable. If extenuating circumstances occur at the site that preclude the appellant and/or the RO from conducting any required site visit within 60 days, the RO may extend the time period for review. Examples of extenuating circumstances may include seasonal hydrologic conditions, winter weather, or disturbed site conditions. The site visit must be conducted as soon as practicable as allowed by the extenuating circumstances, however, in no case shall any site visit extend the total appeals process beyond twelve months from the date of receipt of the RFA. If any site visit delay is necessary, the RO will notify the appellant in writing.

(d) Approved JD appeal meeting. The RO may schedule an informal meeting moderated by the RO or conference call with the appellant, his authorized agent, or both, and appropriate Corps regulatory personnel to review and discuss issues directly related to the appeal for the purpose of clarifying the administrative record. If a meeting is held, the appellant will bear his own costs associated with necessary arrangements, exhibits, travel, and representatives. The approved JD appeal meeting should be held at a location of reasonable convenience to the appellant and near the site where the approved JD was conducted.

(e) Permit denials and declined permits appeal conference. Conferences held in accordance with this part will be informal, and will be chaired by the RO. The purpose of the appeal conference is to provide a forum that allows the participants to discuss freely all relevant issues and material facts associated with the appeal. An appeal conference will be held for every appeal of a permit denial or a declined permit, unless the RO and the appellant mutually agree to forego a conference. The conference will take place within 60 days of receipt of an acceptable RFA, unless the RO determines that unforeseen or unusual circumstances require scheduling the conference for a later date. The purpose of the conference will be to allow the appellant and the Corps district representatives to discuss supporting data and information on issues previously identified in the administrative record, and to allow the RO the opportunity to clarify elements of the administrative record. Presentations by the appellant and the Corps district representatives may include interpretation, clarification, or explanation of the legal, policy, and factual bases for their positions. The conference will be governed by the following guidelines:

(1) Notification. The RO will set a date, time, and location for the conference. The RO will notify the appellant and the Corps district office in writing within 30 days of receipt of the RFA, and not less than 15 days before the date of the conference.

(2) Facilities. The conference will be held at a location that has suitable facilities and that is reasonably convenient to the appellant, preferably in the proximity of the project site. Public facilities available at no expense are preferred. If a free facility is not available, the Corps will pay the cost for the facility.

(3) Participants. The RO, the appellant, the appellant's agent(s) and the Corps district staff are authorized participants in the conference. The RO may also invite any other party the RO has determined to be appropriate, such as any technical experts consulted by the Corps, adjacent property owners or Federal or state agency personnel to clarify elements of the administrative record. The division engineer and/or the district engineer may attend the conference at their discretion. If the appellant or his authorized agent(s) fail to attend the appeal conference, the appeal process is terminated, unless the RO excuses the appellant for a justifiable reason. Furthermore, should the process be terminated in such a manner, the district engineer's original decision on the appealed action will be sustained.

(4) The role of the RO. The RO shall be in charge of conducting the conference. The RO shall open the conference with a summary of the policies and procedures for conducting the conference. The RO will conduct a fair and impartial conference, hear and fully consider all relevant issues and facts, and seek clarification of any issues of the administrative record, as needed, to allow the division engineer to make a final determination on the merits of the appeal. The RO will also be responsible for documenting the appeal conference.

(5) Appellant rights. The appellant, and/or the appellant's authorized agent(s), will be given a reasonable opportunity to present the appellant's views regarding the subject permit denial or declined permit.

(6) Subject matter. The purpose of the appeal conference will be to discuss the reasons for appeal contained in the RFA. Any material in the administrative record may be discussed during the conference, but the discussion should be focused on relevant issues needed to address the reasons for appeal contained in the RFA. The RO may question the appellant or the Corps representatives with respect to interpretation of particular issues in the record, or otherwise to clarify elements of the administrative record. Issues not identified in the administrative record by the date of the NAP for the application may not be raised or discussed, because substantive new information or project modifications would be treated as a new permit application (see §331.5(b)(5)).

(7) Documentation of the appeal conference. The appeal conference is an informal proceeding, intended to provide clarifications and explanations of the administrative record for the RO and the division engineer; it is not intended to supplement the administrative record. Consequently, the proceedings of the conference will not be recorded verbatim by the Corps or any other party attending the conference, and no verbatim transcripts of the conference will be made. However, after the conference, the RO will write a memorandum for the record (MFR) summarizing the presentations made at the conference, and will provide a copy of that MFR to the division engineer, the appellant, and the district engineer.

(8) Appellant costs. The appellant will be responsible for his own expenses for attending the appeal conference.

(f) Basis of decision and communication with the RO. The appeal of an approved JD, a permit denial, or a declined permit is limited to the information contained in the administrative record by the date of the NAP for the application or approved JD, the proceedings of the appeal conference, and any relevant information gathered by the RO as described in §331.5. Neither the appellant nor the Corps may present new information not already contained in the administrative record, but both parties may interpret, clarify or explain issues and information contained in the record.

(g) Applicability of appeal decisions. Because a decision to determine geographic jurisdiction, deny a permit, or condition a permit depends on the facts, circumstances, and physical conditions particular to the specific project and/or site being evaluated, appeal decisions would be of little or no precedential utility. Therefore, an appeal decision of the division engineer is applicable only to the instant appeal, and has no other precedential effect. Such a decision may not be cited in any other administrative appeal, and may not be used as precedent for the evaluation of any other jurisdictional determination or permit application. While administrative appeal decisions lack precedential value and may not be cited by an appellant or a district engineer in any other appeal proceeding, the Corps goal is to have the Corps regulatory program operate as consistently as possible, particularly with respect to interpretations of law, regulation, an Executive Order, and officially-promulgated policy. Therefore, a copy of each appeal decision will be forwarded to Corps Headquarters; those decisions will be periodically reviewed at the headquarters level for consistency with law, Executive Orders, and policy. Additional official guidance will be issued as necessary to maintain or improve the consistency of the Corps' appellate and permit decisions.

§331.8   Timeframes for final appeal decisions.

The Division Engineer will make a final decision on the merits of the appeal at the earliest practicable time, in accordance with the following time limits. The administrative appeal process is initiated by the receipt of an RFA by the division engineer. The Corps will review the RFA to determine whether the RFA is acceptable. The Corps will notify the appellant accordingly within 30 days of the receipt of the RFA in accordance with §331.7(b). If the Corps determines that the RFA is acceptable, the RO will immediately request the administrative record from the district engineer. The division engineer will normally make a final decision on the merits of the appeal within 90 days of the receipt of an acceptable RFA unless any site visit is delayed pursuant to §331.7(c). In such case, the RO will complete the appeal review and the division engineer will make a final appeal decision within 30 days of the site visit. In no case will a site visit delay extend the total appeal process beyond twelve months from the date of receipt of an acceptable RFA.

§331.9   Final appeal decision.

(a) In accordance with the authorities contained in §331.3(a), the division engineer will make a decision on the merits of the appeal. While reviewing an appeal and reaching a decision on the merits of an appeal, the division engineer can consult with or seek information from any person, including the district engineer.

(b) The division engineer will disapprove the entirety of or any part of the district engineer's decision only if he determines that the decision on some relevant matter was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, or plainly contrary to a requirement of law, regulation, an Executive Order, or officially promulgated Corps policy guidance. The division engineer will not attempt to substitute his judgment for that of the district engineer regarding a matter of fact, so long as the district engineer's determination was supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, or regarding any other matter if the district engineer's determination was reasonable and within the zone of discretion delegated to the district engineer by Corps regulations. The division engineer may instruct the district engineer on how to correct any procedural error that was prejudicial to the appellant (i.e., that was not a “harmless” procedural error), or to reconsider the decision where any essential part of the district engineer's decision was not supported by accurate or sufficient information, or analysis, in the administrative record. The division engineer will document his decision on the merits of the appeal in writing, and provide a copy of this decision to the applicant (using certified mail) and the district engineer.

(c) The final decision of the division engineer on the merits of the appeal will conclude the administrative appeal process, and this decision will be filed in the administrative record for the project.

§331.10   Final Corps decision.

The final Corps decision on a permit application is the initial decision to issue or deny a permit, unless the applicant submits an RFA, and the division engineer accepts the RFA, pursuant to this Part. The final Corps decision on an appealed action is as follows:

(a) If the division engineer determines that the appeal is without merit, the final Corps decision is the district engineer's letter advising the applicant that the division engineer has decided that the appeal is without merit, confirming the district engineer's initial decision, and sending the permit denial or the proffered permit for signature to the appellant; or

(b) If the division engineer determines that the appeal has merit, the final Corps decision is the district engineer's decision made pursuant to the division engineer's remand of the appealed action. The division engineer will remand the decision to the district engineer with specific instructions to review the administrative record, and to further analyze or evaluate specific issues. If the district engineer determines that the effects of the district engineer's reconsideration of the administrative record would be narrow in scope and impact, the district engineer must provide notification only to those parties who commented or participated in the original review, and would allow 15 days for the submission of supplemental comments. For permit decisions, where the district engineer determines that the effect of the district engineer's reconsideration of the administrative record would be substantial in scope and impact, the district engineer's review process will include issuance of a new public notice, and/or preparation of a supplemental environmental analysis and decision document (see 33 CFR 325.7). Subsequently, the district engineer's decision made pursuant to the division engineer's remand of the appealed action becomes the final Corps permit decision. Nothing in this part precludes the agencies' authorities pursuant to Section 404(q) of the Clean Water Act.

§331.11   Unauthorized activities.

Approved JDs, permit denials, and declined permits associated with after-the-fact permit applications are appealable actions for the purposes of this part. If the Corps accepts an after-the-fact permit application, an administrative appeal of an approved JD, permit denial, or declined permit may be filed and processed in accordance with these regulations subject to the provisions of paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of this section. An appeal of an approved JD associated with unauthorized activities will normally not be accepted unless the Corps accepts an after-the-fact permit application. However, in rare cases, the district engineer may accept an appeal of such an approved JD, if the district engineer determines that the interests of justice, fairness, and administrative efficiency would be served thereby. Furthermore, no such appeal will be accepted if the unauthorized activity is the subject of a referral to the Department of Justice or the EPA, or for which the EPA has the lead enforcement authority or has requested lead enforcement authority.

(a) Initial corrective measures. If the district engineer determines that initial corrective measures are necessary pursuant to 33 CFR 326.3(d), an RFA for an appealable action will not be accepted by the Corps, until the initial corrective measures have been completed to the satisfaction of the district engineer.

(b) Penalties. If an affected party requests, under this Section, an administrative appeal of an appealable action prior to the resolution of the unauthorized activity, and the division engineer determines that the appeal has no merit, the responsible party remains subject to any civil, criminal, and administrative penalties as provided by law.

(c) Tolling of statute of limitations. Any person who appeals an approved JD associated with an unauthorized activity or applies for an after-the-fact permit, where the application is accepted and processed by the Corps, thereby agrees that the statute of limitations regarding any violation associated with that approved JD or application is tolled until one year after the final Corps decision, as defined at §331.10. Moreover, the recipient of an approved JD associated with an unauthorized activity or applicant for an after-the-fact permit must also memorialize that agreement to toll the statute of limitations, by signing an agreement to that effect, in exchange for the Corps acceptance of the after-the-fact permit application, and/or any administrative appeal (See 33 CFR 326.3(e)(1)(v)). No administrative appeal associated with an unauthorized activity or after-the-fact permit application will be accepted until such signed tolling agreement is furnished to the district engineer.

§331.12   Exhaustion of administrative remedies.

No affected party may file a legal action in the Federal courts based on a permit denial or a proffered permit until after a final Corps decision has been made and the appellant has exhausted all applicable administrative remedies under this part. The appellant is considered to have exhausted all administrative remedies when a final Corps permit decision is made in accordance with §331.10.

Appendix A to Part 331—Administrative Appeal Process for Permit Denials and Proffered Permits

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Appendix B to Part 331—Applicant Options With Initial Proffered Permit

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Appendix C to Part 331—Administrative Appeal Process for Approved Jurisdictional Determinations

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Appendix D to Part 331—Process for Unacceptable Request for Appeal

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