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Published on Friday, November 9, 2012

SEPA rule published

The Department of Ecology has officially submitted their proposed SEPA rule changes, publishing the proposal in the state register on November 7. The proposal and supporting documents are available for review here. The public comment period closes on December 11. Cities have been actively engaged with Ecology and other stakeholders as this proposal was developed.

As those of you following this process know, most of the attention thus far has been on the optional categorical exemption thresholds, and more recently on the required process for local governments to adopt these higher thresholds. While our advisory committee members and other members of the committee advocated for larger increases in these levels, we were able to come to agreement on the levels in the proposal. Part of that agreement included more specificity around the local adoption process. Ultimately, given the feedback we received, the city representatives on the committee agreed that the new process is not unduly burdensome and it was worth agreeing to in exchange for the new thresholds.

New process to adopt optional thresholds

At a minimum, the following process shall be met in order to establish a new flexible exemption level:

  1. Documentation that the requirements for environmental analysis, protection, and mitigation for impacts to elements of the environment (listed in WAC 197-11-444) have been adequately addressed. These can be addressed in specific adopted development regulations, comprehensive plans, and applicable state and federal regulations.
  2. Description in the findings or other appropriate section of the adopting ordinance or resolution of the locally established project-level public comment opportunities that are provided for proposals included in these increased exemption levels.
  3. Before adopting the ordinance or resolution containing the proposed new exemption levels, the local government shall provide a minimum of 21 days notice to affected tribes, agencies with expertise, affected jurisdictions, the Department of Ecology, and the public and provide an opportunity for comment.

New optional exemption thresholds


Full planning GMA counties

All other counties

Incorportated and unincorporated UGA

Other incorporated areas

Incorporated and unincorporated areas

Single family residential (# of units)




Multifamily residential (# of units)




Agricultural (sq. ft.)

40,000 40,000 40,000

Office, school, commercial + parking (sq. ft. + # of spots

30,000 + 90

12,000 + 40

12,000 + 40

Landfill or excavation (cu. yds.)




Other changes in the rule

In addition to the changes in the categorical exemption thresholds, the rule proposal makes additional changes to SEPA:
  • A change intended to streamline the use of the SEPA checklist and match the new statutory authority for cities to “pre-answer” some questions to make the process easier for the applicant.
  • Modernizing the exemption for certain electrical facilities within existing rights-of-way.
Please share any feedback with Carl Schroeder, and remember that we are running a process for city officials to provide feedback to our advisory committee members. E-mail Carl if you would like to participate.