13. Special Districts and State Agencies
State agencies and special districts, such as ports, school districts, health districts, etc. must comply with SEPA and consider the environmental consequences of a proposal before taking an action (see definition of action in WAC 197-11-704). In some instances, a state agency or district will be SEPA lead agency and will be responsible for conducting the environmental review of a proposal. In other instances they will be consulted agencies or agencies with jurisdiction, and will review and comment on SEPA documents from other agencies. State agencies and district will also consider the information in the SEPA document during decision-making and may use SEPA substantive authority to condition or deny a proposal.
When special districts or state agencies are proposing or permitting projects, they must also be aware of the city or county regulations that may have a bearing on the proposal. An example is the need to check with the city or county before determining whether a proposal is exempt. The local jurisdiction may raise the level of the flexible threshold exemptions and/or exclude some exemptions within a designated critical area. (See discussion of Categorical Exemptions.)
A state agency or special district should work closely with the county or city to ensure the proposal meets the requirements of the local development regulations and comprehensive plan. This includes identifying mitigation measures or studies required by the local development regulations. For example, a critical area ordinance may require a wetland study or require a specific size buffer around a wetland.
When a GMA city or county has a permit to issue for a project where the SEPA lead agency is a state agency or special district, the GMA county or city must comply with the requirements of the Local Project Review Act and the 120-day project review process. When a state agency or special district is the proponent, they may choose to issue appropriate SEPA documents (DNS, EIS, adoption, etc.) and hear SEPA procedural appeals prior to submitting a permit application to the GMA county/city. This assures that environmental review is completed prior to the GMA city or county’s 120-day time frame. A further benefit is that environmental review may then occur early in the development of a proposal where it is most meaningful in developing a project with fewer environmental impacts.
If a state agency or special district chooses to conduct environmental review after a permit application is submitted to a GMA county or city, they can issue the threshold determination at any point in the review process. The lead agency could decide to issue the threshold determination prior to the notice of application, concurrent with the notice of application, or after the notice of application. However, the threshold determination must be final prior to a GMA county or city open record hearing or issuing a notice of decision. To avoid delays in the 120-day process, the threshold determination should be issued early in the review process when it will be most useful to the GMA county/city and others reviewing the proposal.
A state agency or district will be the SEPA lead agency when the state agency or district is:
Agencies may also transfer or share lead agency status through a lead agency agreement [WAC 197-11-942]. (For more information see Section 2.4.1.)
The SEPA review process discussed in the SEPA Environmental Review Section is the same process used by a state agency or district. The following tips may also be useful.
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