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Published on Friday, September 28, 2012

SEPA draft proposal released - advisory committee heading into the final stretch

Our work with the Department of Ecology (Ecology) to update and increase SEPA categorical exemptions continues. The committee advising Ecology met again on September 11 and is scheduled to meet for a third and final time on October 2. Stakeholders ranging from cities to historic preservation interests to the agricultural community have been working to understand each other, and progress is being made. On September 25, Ecology released a draft proposal for consideration by the work group.

Ecology has put forward two options to the main question of new exemption levels (summarized below). Your thoughts on the relative merits of each would be much appreciated. Both of these proposals would increase optional thresholds; existing default levels would remain the same. Although we are concentrating here on the categorical exemptions, additional proposed changes are available at the link above. Following the final advisory committee meeting, Ecology willneed to decide what proposal to put forward for public comment and review as an official rule proposal.

In particular, your thoughts on the “findings” requirements would be especially helpful – we want to be sure that this process doesn’t make it more difficult to utilize our existing authorities. We’ve already heard some concerns that this proposal from Ecology goes too far in that direction. If you have thoughts or concerns about these specific proposals – please contact Carl Schroeder.

Now would also be a good time to contact Ecology if you want to encourage them to make a bolder proposal. Comments may be sent to Fran Sant.

Categorical Exemption Proposal A: Retains the current optional levels (calling them “Tier 1”) for all geographic areas (UGA, non-UGA, etc.) and creates a new category (“Tier 2”) with larger increases which require additional procedural requirements to access.

The new findings requirements are as follows:

(ii) Tier 2 optional thresholds: Inaddition to the provisions of subsection (i) above, a newly established Tier 2exemption level shall be supported by findings that the requirements forenvironmental analysis, protection, and mitigation for the exempted types ofdevelopment have been adequately addressed in development regulations and comprehensiveplans adopted under chapter 36.70A RCW, and in other applicable local, state,or federal laws or rules. The city, town or county shall explain how theseexisting requirements adequately avoid, minimize or otherwise compensate forprobable significant impacts with analysis and findings relevant to eachelement of the environment.

In addition to new findings, in order to access these Tier 2 thresholds, jurisdictions would have to publish notice of projects that are exempted in theSEPA register (but no other SEPA procedures would be required).

Categorical Exemption Proposal B: Retains the existing procedural requirements but makes more modest increases in threshold levels.

A chart from Ecology laying out these options is below.

Categorical Exemption Options from Ecology:

    Proposal A – Add new "Tier 2" optional maximum thresholds; retain existing optional levels as "Tier 1" Proposal B – Raise current operational thresholds
Levels Current minimum Tier 1 all Tier 2 UGA Tier 2 non-UGA Tier 1a UGA Tier 1b non-UGA
Single family residential
[# of units]
4 20 40 25 25 20
Multi-family residential
[# of units]
4 20 80 25 40 20
[sq ft]
10K 30K 40K 60K 30 40
Office, school, commercial + parking
[sq ft + # of spots]
4K+20 12K+40 40K+120 12K+40 20K+60 12K+40
Landfill or excavation
[cu yds]
100 500 1000 1000 750 750