Sen. Capito Complains About Lengthy Corps Permitting Process

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, recently urged the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up its review process for federal permits.

Capito focused her early remarks on the amount of time the Corps’ Huntington District office has taken to review the permit request filed by Nucor Corporation that it needs to build a $3.1 billion sheet steel mill along the Ohio River at Apple Grove, W.Va., about 2 miles below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. Construction of the mill would employ about 2,500 to 3,000 workers at its peak.

Nucor announced its plans for the mill in January 2022. Much of the mill’s raw materials and finished product will move by barge. The company filed its permit application for its in-river work early last year. The Huntington District issued a public notice on May 11, 2022. Nucor later modified the project design, and an amended notice was issued October 5. Early this year, after questions arose about matters of historic and archaeological significance on the site, the district issued a second amended notice on April 21. The public comment period ends May 22.

Nucor has spent more than $29 million for 1,781 acres in the Apple Grove, W.Va., area and has begun site preparation for areas that will house offices for construction work. Some temporary office buildings have been installed. All state permits have been obtained, Nucor officials say, but work on the steel mill site itself is on hold until federal permits are in hand.

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Capito voiced her concerns at a committee hearing on May 3 to discuss the Corps’ 2024 budget and implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022.

Addressing Michael L. Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, and Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, chief of the Corps of Engineers, in her prepared remarks, Capito noted the Corps’ role in reviewing permit applications under federal law.

“The Army Corps and Nucor must work diligently and collaboratively through this process so that timely decisions on these applications can be made,” she said. “The federal laws must be adhered to, while bureaucratic delays must be avoided.”She added, “As I have previously reinforced with both of you, this plant is critical to the economic vitality of my home state and to improving the lives of my constituents while also supporting infrastructure and manufacturing across our country.

“I will continue to stay on top of this, and we’ve talked about this already, as I know you all will, too. So, thank you for that.”

Later in the week in a news conference, Capito was more direct.

“I absolutely think it’s moving too slowly,” Capito said, according to an article in The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va. “I mean, I think I made it clear to the general, and I’ve talked with him before.”

In April, John Farris, president of Nucor Steel West Virginia, said the process is taking longer than Nucor anticipated, but the company still hopes to have its groundbreaking ceremony this summer.

Nucor is working on all requirements the Corps and other agencies have set for receiving the mill’s federal permits, including relocating about 100,000 mussels along the mile of riverbank where the mill’s dock will be, Nucor officials have said.

Contacted after Capito’s comments, Brian Maka, chief of public affairs for the Huntington District, said, “We fully understand the importance of the Nucor project to the people of West Virginia and are working our permitting processes as expeditiously as possible.”

The Apple Grove plant will be similar to a Nucor sheet mill near Ghent, Ky., and within a mile or so of the Markland Locks and Dam, but larger. That mill processes more than 5,000 tons of scrap steel daily. Most of it is brought in by barge. The Apple Grove mill likewise will rely on barge traffic for its scrap steel and for the direct reduced iron that is used in its electric arc furnaces.

According to the permit application for the dock, Nucor wants to build five barge fleeting areas, a DRI dock and a total of 19 mooring cells.  Three of the proposed fleeting areas would accommodate eight barges moored four wide by two long.  Two of the proposed fleeting areas would accommodate 12 barges moored four wide by three long. The proposed mooring cells would consist of a maximum 25-foot diameter, circular steel sheet piling driven into the river bottom.  Three cells would be outside of the normal pool limits. Each of the other mooring cells would extend 60 feet into the Ohio River as measured from the normal pool elevation. The fleeted barges would have an average maximum riverward extent of 200 feet from the normal pool elevation limit. The single-point maximum riverward extent is 230 feet from the normal pool limits at one mooring cell, as the shoreline curves landward at that location.  Two mooring cells, a “casino barge,” and a barge-mounted crane would be located at the southern end of the site to facilitate DRI material unloading.  The maximum riverward extent of the mooring cell would be 115 linear feet from the normal pool limits.

To offset potential adverse effects to fish and wildlife values, Nucor has proposed fish habitat enhancement both on site and off site.