Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


This study evaluates the decision-making process of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) as it applies to the selection of land or open-water disposal sites for sediment from dredging projects planned by the COE. The study seeks to illustrate: 1) the structure of the COE decision-making process as provided for in laws, regulations, and COE policies; 2) the operational, economic, and environmental variables that might influence COE decision-making; 3) how the New England Division of the COE makes decisions on disposal sites for dredged material through consideration of operational, economic and environmental objectives. The study finds that the COE decision-making process, with respect to dredged material disposal, is structurally complex and bureaucratic in nature. It is characterized by the interaction of numerous laws, regulations, federal agencies, and public and private interests. The process is designed to accommodate potentially conflicting interests and objectives. There are many potentially important variables involved in the decision-making process. The possibility of conflicts between operational, economic and environmental objectives requires flexibility in decision-making. Because the potential environmental effects of dredged material disposal are still poorly understood, the environmental objective is the one most easily compromised. Based upon the quantitative evaluation performed in this study, the operational economic and environmental variable groups that were examined appear to have little or no influence on disposal site decision-making in the New England Division (NED) of the COE. This suggests that, in practice, the NED decision-making process is loosely structured, project specific, and highly subjective in nature. That finding is probably a function of the complex nature of both the dredged material disposal problem and the decision-making process. It is difficult for the NED decision-makers to objectively assess the same set of variables in each disposal decision. The diversity of potentially important variables, and the variability of project conditions make the application of broad-scale decision rules impractical. The decision-making process must be flexible enough to accommodate the special considerations of each project. As a result, disposal site selections must be made on a project-by-project basis, and are ultimately subjective in nature. The findings of this study raise an interesting issue in terms of the COE'environmental regulatory requirements.

The New England Division does not appear to be making an attempt to exclude or restrict all potentially contaminated dredged material from open-water disposal. It seems that dredged material is excluded from open-water disposal only if it obviously violates current regulatory standards. Little effort is made to restrict the discharge of material that may be marginally contaminated. so long as it complies with the regulations. IF these finds reflect the policy of the New England Division, that policy may or may not be justified in light of the uncertainty surrounding the potential advese environmental impacts of dredged material disposal. The issue of contention is that, even though such a policy fulfills the regulatory requirements, it does not fully conform to the intent of Congress as expressed in the legislation.