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The key to freeing local communities from regulatory oversight.

By Seth Mittle (Posted April 5, 2016):

We’ve all heard the stories. Farmers fined tens of thousands of dollars for digging a pond for their cattle without a permit, citizens being issued compliance orders for building their home in jurisdictional wetlands. You don’t have to look far to find tensions between local communities and state or federal regulatory agencies. Most of the time, these communities or individuals find themselves stunned and helpless upon receipt of a compliance order. In many cases, they will spend tens of thousands of dollars in litigation trying to fight imposed regulations.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to battling out compliance issues in court. Written within the regulations are limits to this jurisdictional oversight. Instead of months of litigation debating the interpretation of the law, consider making an argument based on concrete scientific evidence.

SynTerra has become a key player on this front. We were recently involved in a project where a homeowners association received a letter of deficiency after an inspection of the dam embanking their neighborhood pond. The remediation the inspector cited was not feasible, and the removal of the dam would be a costly forfeiture. The homeowners association sought our services in hopes of finding an economical alternative.

Being a relatively small reservoir and embankment, the dam only met one of the requirements of a moderate hazard classification requiring regulatory oversight. Both the height and the hydraulic capacity were below the minimum limit. The only basis for jurisdiction was the potential downstream consequences. Since the potential downstream effects were not established, the dam remained under regulatory authority. Only an engineering analysis certified by a professional engineer would release the homeowners association from complying.


Our analysis began with taking surveyed information of the dam, reservoir and downstream profile and inputting that into HEC-RAS. Developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, this River Analysis System has breach analysis functions that generate velocities, flows and water surface elevation. Downstream, there were crossings with culverts of many different shapes and sizes. HEC-RAS had options for each feature. Using Froehlich empirical equations, we were able to simulate the breach dimensions and timing.

Based on our analysis, we provided the inspector with proof that the damages of a catastrophic failure of the dam would be minimal. Shortly after the report was submitted, the inspector issued a letter to the homeowners association that the dam would be removed from regulatory oversight. Crisis averted.

This community can now enjoy their backyard pond and stream in peace with their financial burden relieved. Instead of finding yourself fighting a compliance order and staring down months of costly litigation, have a consulting firm take a look at the underlying scientific evidence.  It could save you thousands.