Get to Know the Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers is the primary federal regulatory bureaucracy that you need to get to know as a lakefront property owner who is considering developing raw land, putting on an addition, or constructing an out building such as a garage, shed, or boat house.  The Corps will work hand in hand with state natural resources departments and local conservation agencies to make sure your proposed private property project is done within the parameters of its rules.

The Army Corps of Engineers regulates navigable waterways and, in general, manages natural resources. If you are looking to develop or improve a lakefront lot, you will likely have to get a permit through them. The Corps administers permits for dredging or filling wetlands.  It was in 1985 that The United States Supreme Court determined the Army Corps of Engineers would rule over wetlands adjacent to open waters. The vote was a unanimous 9 to 0. According to the Corps' website, Section 404 of the federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, or The Clean Water Act, gives the Corps the responsibility of overseeing your construction project if there are wetlands on or adjacent to your lakefront property. And, if you own lakefront, often times there are wetlands nearby or possibly on your property. You may not even know it.

If the Corps determines that your property has wetland vegetation, it will be very difficult to obtain a permit for your house project, garage, or shed anywhere near the declared wetland area. There has always been controversy over its jurisdiction on these projects. As a lakefront property owner looking to build, you will likely feel some frustration about this arduous and cumbersome process because the Corps is known for taking its time reviewing permits, and because there is little to no transparency through the process.


I would suggest finding out if there are wetlands on a raw piece of lakefront property before you buy it with the intentions of building. The same holds true for a house that may require an addition or new garage in the future. Find out if wetlands are located on the property before you make an offer and just assume you are in the clear. You don't want to find yourself in a situation owning a lakefront property that you can't do what you initially intended to do.

For more information on the Army Corps of Engineers and its regulatory authority, click here to navigate to its website.