Washington State Environmental Assessment (9-WA-b)
State Environmental Assessment Process
9-WA-b.1 to 9-WA-b.2 – Provide Developer with Environmental Checklist
The lead agency will supply an Environmental Checklist for the developer to fill out. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-960. The Environmental Checklist is a standard form used by all agencies to obtain information about a proposal. The form includes questions about the proposal, its location, possible future activities, and questions about potential impacts of the proposal on each element of the environment.
The lead agency may fill out the checklist, or require the developer to do so. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-315(4). However, it is recommended that the developer complete the environmental checklist so that they may examine the proposal from an environmental perspective. The checklist was designed to be as generic as possible to ensure that it is applicable to every kind of proposal. SEPA Online Handbook § 2.5.1.
9-WA-b.3 – Conduct Environmental Review
The lead agency will use the information provided in the environmental checklist to review the probable environmental impacts that will result from the project.
9-WA-b.4 to 9-WA-b.5 – Does a Categorical or Statutory Exemption Apply?
A proposed project may be categorically exempt under Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-800 – 890 (except as limited by Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-305) or statutorily exempt under Wash. Rev. Code § 43.21C. If the project is exempt, the lead agency does not make a threshold determination or establish EIS requirements and the developer may continue with the project. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-800; Wash. Rev. Code § 43.21C.
9-WA-b.6 to 9-WA-b.8 – Review Application Materials
The lead agency must independently evaluate the developer’s responses, and must conduct an initial review of the environmental checklist without requiring additional information from the developer. Following the initial review, the lead agency may request additional information from the developer. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-100.
9-WA-b.9 – Make Threshold Determination of Environmental Impacts
“Threshold Determination” means the decision by the lead agency whether or not an EIS is required for a proposal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-797. A threshold determination is required for any proposal that may be defined as an “action” under Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-704, and that is not categorically exempt (Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-800 – 890) or statutorily exempt (Wash. Rev. Code § 43.21C). This determination is subject to limitations concerning proposals for which a threshold determination has already been issued. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-310. All threshold determinations must result in either a determination of non-significance (DNS) or a determination of significance (DS). Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-310.
Agencies must use the Environmental Checklist to assist in making their threshold determinations for the proposal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-315(1). The lead agency will use the environmental checklist and any additional information requested to determine if the proposal is likely to have a probable significant adverse environmental impact and to consider mitigation measures that the developer will implement as part of the proposal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-330. The SEPA rules encourage all lead agencies to solicit comments from agencies with expertise to evaluate the environmental impacts of a proposal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-335. These consultations can assist the lead agency in determining permits required, appropriate mitigation, any additional information and/or studies, and when an EIS is or is not needed for a proposal. SEPA Online Handbook § 2.5.2.
A threshold determination for a proposal must be made no later than 90 days after the application and supporting documentation are determined to be complete. The developer may request an additional 30 days for the threshold determination. Wash. Rev. Code § 43.21C.033; Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-310(3).
9-WA-b.10 to 9-WA-b.11 – Will There Be a Significant Adverse Impact on the Environment?
Following the completion of the Environmental Checklist and environmental review, if the lead agency determines the project will not have a probable adverse impact on the environment the lead agency will complete a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS). Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-970.
If the lead agency determines that the project will have a significant adverse impact on the environment, initiate the State EIS process:
9-WA-b.12 – Draft Determination of Non-Significance (DNS)
The decision to prepare a DNS is made after review of a completed environmental checklist and other information on file with the lead agency. The pertinent documents are available to the public on request. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-970.
If the lead agency determines that the proposal will have no probable significant adverse environmental impacts, the agency must prepare and issue a DNS substantially in the form provided in Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-970. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-340.
The agency must send the DNS and environmental checklist to agencies with jurisdiction, the Washington State Department of Ecology, affected tribes, and each local agency or political subdivision whose public services would be changed as a result of implementation of the proposal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-340.
9-WA-b.13 to 9-WA-b.14 – Provide Notice of DNS and Allow for Comment
Notice of completion of a DNS must be effectuated using the SEPA procedures set forth by the lead agency. Public notice of the DNS is required. The lead agency is responsible for providing reasonable notice to the public, and they are permitted to use their own form of notice for this purpose. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-510. Members of the public have 30 days to comment on the DNS. The lead agency may extend the comment period by 15 days if such an extension is requested before the end of the comment period. WAC 197-11-502; Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-455.
9-WA-b.15 – Modify DNS and Conduct Hearing (If Necessary)
A public hearing may be held if the lead agency determines that it would assist in determining environmental impacts or if fifty or more persons residing in the lead agency’s jurisdiction request a hearing. If a public hearing is held, it must be open to the consideration of the environmental impact of the proposal, together with the DNS. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-535.
The lead agency must reconsider the DNS based on timely comments and may retain or modify the DNS. The lead agency may withdraw the DNS if it determines that significant adverse impacts are likely. When the DNS is modified, the lead agency must send the modified DNS to agencies with jurisdiction.
9-WA-b.16 – Final DNS
Following review of the draft DNS, the lead agency will modify the DNS as necessary and issue a final DNS. The final DNS must take the form outlined in Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-970.
9-WA-b.17 to 9-WA-b.18– Does Another Agency Assume Lead Agency Status?
Assumption of lead agency status occurs when the original lead agency issues a DNS and another agency with jurisdiction believes that the proposed project is likely to have significant adverse environmental impacts and that an EIS is needed to evaluate those impacts. After assuming lead agency status, the new lead agency is then required to issue a determination of significance and prepare an EIS. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-948. For more information, see:
9-WA-b.19 – Appeal Decision (If Applicable)
Each lead agency decides whether or not to offer an administrative appeals process. However, if the lead agency does permit administrative appeals, the procedures must comply with those set out in Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-680(3)(a). Any individual wishing to appeal the DS or DNS must first go through the administrative appeals process, if the lead agency provides one. Wash. Rev. Code § 43.21C.075(4); Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-680(3)(c). If the lead agency does not provide an administrative appeals process, the individual wishing to appeal may initiate a judicial appeal. Wash. Admin. Code § 197-11-680(4).
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