Process protects public interest, federal projects

Tom Conning

Public Affairs Specialist

Convoluted, complex, difficult or time-consuming could all be adjectives used to describe public interactions with the federal government. Federal workers complying with various rules and regulations influence this perception, which is just part of the process.


The I-5 Bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington State, allows thousands of commuters, commercial traffic and private traffic to cross the channel and allows barge traffic to transverse the river. If Washington and Oregon wanted to replace this bridge or add another, the states would need to submit an application for a Section 408 review and permission decision. (Corps of Engineers photo)

But how does the public know about these various rules? Sometimes they don’t and find out later, if at all, and sometimes they stumble through the process. That’s why Marci Johnson, Portland District Section 408 manager, wants to clearly communicate about the Section 408 program, which may sound like typical bureaucratic red-tape.

“The Corps has invested millions of dollars in our federally authorized projects and we need to ensure that we protect them and the people who rely on those projects for flood control or navigation,” said Johnson about the 408 process. “That while the process may seem cumbersome, Portland District will help all our applicants to work through the process before and after they submit a complete 408 package,” she continued.

Section 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 authorizes the Corps to grant permission for the alteration, occupation or use of a Corps civil works project if the Secretary of the Army determines that the activity will not be injurious to the public interest and will not impair the usefulness of the project. For instance, if Oregon and Washington decided to build the Columbia River Crossing, the states would have to submit an application for a Section 408 review.

This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee along the Columbia River, in Washougal, Washington, is designed to hold back water during storm events. If an organization wanted to make alterations to this levee, it would need to submit an application for a Section 408 review and permission decision to ensure that the activity will not be injurious to the public interest and will not impair the usefulness of the project. (Corps of Engineers photo)

“Building the Columbia River Crossing is going to impact the federal channel as well as federally authorized levees,” explains Johnson. “Because of the potential adverse impact, that triggers the need for a section 408 review. Realigning the channel or shutting down the channel for bridge work would affect our mission, as well as impact the flood control levees.”

Johnson provides an eight-step checklist that users can follow to make the process easier:

General Section 408 checklist:

  1. Date of Submission:
  2. Identify the purpose and need.
  3. Provide a description of the proposed activity.
  4. Is the proposed project a federally authorized project? Yes/No
  5. Has the sponsor/diking district provided a letter of endorsement for the project? Yes/No (if yes, please attach or indicate the date provided to or sent to the Portland District)
  6. There are other checklists that are required. Visit to view them.
  7. Information requested in the checklists below may be submitted in an approved digital format via email, or regular mail.
  8. Please send the checklist(s) to both Marci E. Johnson, Section 408 Project Manager, at and to Jason McBain, P.E, Levee Safety Program Manager, at

Section 408 applies to individuals, private organizations and local governments for any alteration of levees, dams, navigation channels or any other federally authorized project. This is in addition to other Corps regulatory permit requirements. Please also refer to Engineering Circular 1165-2-216 for more information: