13. Special Districts and State Agencies

Chapter Contents
13.1. GMA and the Local Project Review Act
13.2. When State Agencies or Special Districts Are Lead Agency
13.2.1. Environmental Review Process


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.

13.1 GMA and the Local Project Review Act

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.

13.2 When State Agencies or Special Districts are Lead Agency

A state agency or district will be the SEPA lead agency when the state agency or district is:

  • Proposing a specific project, such as constructing a new building or installing utility lines, etc. [WAC 197-11-704(2)(a)];

  • Proposing a nonproject action, such as adoption of an ordinance, policy, or plan, rule, etc. [WAC 197-11-704(2)(b)]; or

  • Issuing a license for a private project when no license is required from a county or city. For example, the local air authority would be SEPA lead agency for a project when the only license required is a notice of construction or other air permit [WAC 197-11-930 and 197-11-934]. A state agency would be lead agency for a project that requires a license from the state agency and no permits from a local agency [WAC 197-11-936];

  • Designated under the SEPA Rules as lead agency for the specific type of proposal, whether or not they have jurisdiction [WAC 197-11-938, this applies to state agencies only]; and

  • Transferred lead agency status by a city with a population under 5,000 or a county with less than 18,000 residents [WAC 197-11-940, this applies only to state agencies with jurisdiction on a proposal].

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.)

13.2.1 Environmental Review Process

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.

  • The environmental review process should be integrated with the review of the proposal to avoid delays and duplication. Studies required under other laws should not be repeated under SEPA, but should be used as part of the environmental review of the proposal.

  • A threshold determination must be made within 90 days after determining the permit application and supporting documentation are complete.

  • When the proposal is a private project, we encourage the use of a preapplication process that allows the agency and applicant to discuss permit requirements and the review process before a permit application is submitted.

  • Once the SEPA review process has been completed, the environmental analysis in the SEPA document must be considered by decision-makers, and may be used as the basis for conditioning or denying a license using SEPA substantive authority. (See Using SEPA in Decision Making section.)



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