A dozen jumbo jets lined up wing to wing. Massive hangers wide enough for two of them to roll through side-by-side. Thousands of parking spaces. A few cans of paint… well, sort of.
These were some of the visions of Boeing South Carolina when they applied for a Department of the Army permit to expand their footprint at their existing aerospace manufacturing and assembly facility in North Charleston.
The history of permitting decisions at this facility goes back to before Boeing was even in town.
In 2005, the Charleston District issued a permit to Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc. to construct an aerospace manufacturing and integration facility adjacent to Charleston International Airport. This facility was one part of a global assembly line that includes Boeing’s Dreamlifter, a modified 747 that was designed to transport aircraft parts around the globe.
Boeing purchased the facility from Vought in 2009, and modified the DA permit to allow for the development of a second aircraft assembly plant. Approximately 30 percent of 787 Dreamliners are now assembled in the North Charleston facility, which has grown to more than 7,000 employees.
In March 2013, Boeing met with the District to discuss their short- and long-term plans to expand the facility. Additional land and facilities were required to meet both the existing and projected future demand for the 787 Dreamliner. Since the majority of the land that surrounds the existing facility consists of wetlands, Boeing would require a DA permit from the District to impact them. Boeing submitted a permit application in December 2013, which proposed impacting approximately 153 acres of wetlands and other waters of the United States.
“The proposed project is different from any other project that I have worked on at the Corps” said Nat Ball, project manager. “There is a runway that directly connects the site to the existing runways at Charleston International Airport. As a result, opportunities to avoid and minimize potential impacts to waters of the U.S. are limited.”
Shortly after receiving the permit application, the District issued a public notice to receive comments. The majority of the written comments that were received focused on the positive economic impact of Boeing within the region and the overall benefits that the proposed compensatory mitigation plan would have on the Cooper River watershed.
The proposed mitigation plan to offset the adverse impacts to waters of the United States, included the purchase of more than 3,900 acres of land, conducting the necessary restoration and enhancement, and, eventually, transferring the property to the U.S. Forest Service and/or the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for long-term management and stewardship.
“The goal of mitigation is to improve and maintain aquatic resource functions in the same watershed as the impacts from the project,” said Ball. “One of the properties they were able to acquire and protect was the U.S. Forest Service’s number one priority project east of the Mississippi River.”
In July 2014, the District issued a Department of the Army permit for Boeing’s proposed expansion project and work has already begun on a paint hangar that can accommodate two fully assembled aircraft at the same time. Right now, when a plane is completed, Boeing must fly the plane to another facility for painting. This new building will allow them to complete the entire project in North Charleston.
The District is continuing to work with Boeing and state and local agencies to ensure that future phases of the proposed project are designed and constructed to avoid and minimize potential impacts to storm water and nearby residents. Likewise, we are working with Boeing to confirm that the compensatory mitigation plan is both successful and sustainable.