Report on SEPA Project Checklist Testing (Draft) 

Summary

This report provides the results of testing new draft versions of the SEPA environmental checklist for project actions. The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has worked with an advisory committee to investigate changes to the existing SEPA environmental checklist (WAC 197-11-960). The advisory committee previously developed  goals or criteria to guide changes to the checklist.

Testing took place with the assistance of two volunteer SEPA lead agencies, Thurston County and City of Yakima, and a number of volunteer applicants. The testing simulated a variety of real-world projects. Three versions of the checklist were tested. The results of the testing indicate there is not unanimous agreement about which changes represent an improvement. However, there are elements of all versions that were viewed as an improvement over the existing checklist. At this point in time, Ecology must make a decision about how to proceed with rule making efforts. Ecology must also determine the relationship between any changes to the project checklist and possible changes to the SEPA Rules for nonproject actions. Given the results of testing, Ecology has the following questions for the advisory committee:

  1. Considering the variety of checklist versions that have been developed, is there a project checklist format that Ecology should finish developing?
  2. What are key components to be included in a final version?
  3. What are appropriate next steps?
  4. Should Ecology continue its work to adopt a new project checklist in 2001, place the effort on hold, or drop it altogether?
  5. What is the recommended relationship between the nonproject and project checklist rule revisions?  

Table of Contents

Summary (above)
Acknowledgments
Background
History
Brief Overviews of Versions
Testing Description/Scenario
Background
Projects
Process
Results
General Impressions
Ecology’s Review of Completed Checklist
Questionnaires
Discussion
Conclusions and Questions for Advisory Committee
Checklist Version Comparison
Key Issue
Direction and Next Steps
Questions for SEPA Checklist Advisory Committee


List of Attachments

- Click once on attachment in desired format
- Follow this link for more information about file formats

  Document Web page  Word format and file size PDF format and file size
  A. Environmental Project Review Checklist Purpose

22 kb 67 kb
  B. Suggested Criteria for Evaluating Draft Checklist

22 kb 68 kb
  C. Usability Evaluation Plan 54 kb 149 kb
  D. Project Review Form Preliminary Results from Testing 66 kb 148 kb
  E. Miscellaneous Feedback from Testing 12/15/99 26 kb 85 kb
F. Draft Environmental Checklist - Version 4a 229 kb 244 kb
G. Guidance for Draft Version 4a 192 kb 316 kb
H. Draft Environmental Checklist - Version 4b 110 kb 182 kb
I. Guidance for Draft Version 4b 183 kb 316 kb
J. Draft Environmental Checklist - Version 5 105 kb 353 kb
K. Guidance for Draft Version 5 120 kb 233 kb
L. Comments from Applicants at Thurston County 34 kb 71 kb
  M. Comments from Applicants at Yakima 25 kb 80 kb
  N. Comments From Lead Agency at Thurston County 21 kb 77 kb
  O. Version 2 Draft Environmental Checklist 209 kb 337 kb


Acknowledgments

The Department of Ecology would like to thank the SEPA Checklist Advisory Committee and testing volunteers for their help, without which none of the information in this report would have been possible. We are deeply appreciative of the help provided by our volunteers.

Volunteers From Lead Agencies
Dan Valoff, City of Yakima
Don Krupp, Thurston County
Cindy Wilson, Thurston County
Linda Whitcher, Thurston County
Roger Giebelhaus, Thurston County
Tony Kantas, Thurston County
Mike Kain, Thurston County
Dale Grenier, Thurston County

Volunteer Applicants
Beth Spelsberg, Golder Associates
Dan Biles, Hatton Godat Pantier
Jason Bruhn, Skillings-Connolly
Harold Porath, Huibregtse Louman Associates
Jim Lapinski, Yakima Valley Conference of Governments
Lori Ochoa, Office of Permit Assistance
Gary Kruger, Dept. of Ecology, Water Quality Program
Ali Raad, Dept. of Ecology, Toxics Cleanup Program
Donna Smith, Dept. of Ecology, Water Quality Program
Debbie Smith, Dept. of Ecology, Central Regional Office


I. Background

History

ESHB 1724 was passed by the 1995 legislature and directed the Department of Ecology and the Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development to revise the State Environmental Policy Act Rules, Chapter 197-11 WAC. Revisions were to reflect the philosophy that project review should start from the fundamental land use planning choices made in the comprehensive plans and development regulations. Project review should not require additional studies or mitigation under SEPA where existing regulations adequately address a proposed project’s probable specific adverse environmental impacts.

To meet this objective, the legislature directed "…state agencies to consult with local government and the public to develop a better format than the current environmental checklist to meet this objective" (see notes after RCW 36.70B.030). During the rule revision process, a rule advisory subcommittee evaluated the environmental checklist and developed a revised version that was circulated for review. The comments on this version generally indicated that minor amendments to the current checklist were not sufficient. As a result, the checklist effort was dropped pending completion of other SEPA Rule amendments.

After the amendments were completed in 1997, work was again started on the revision of the checklist with the goal of totally amending the form. A Checklist Advisory Committee was formed and began work on the new project checklist.

The advisory committee agreed on a checklist purpose (see Attachment A, Environmental/Project Review Checklist Purpose). Purposes of the checklist included, but were not limited to:

  • assisting the lead agency in making a threshold determination;
  • providing information to, and promoting constructive exchange among the applicant, public, and agencies on a proposal, its environmental consequences and possible mitigation measures; and
  • assisting agencies in decisionmaking and use of existing planning while conducting integrated project review, review of phased projects, and completing detailed project studies.

As part of the purpose to assist an agency in conducting integrated project review, the checklist was intended to assist in evaluating a proposal’s consistency with comprehensive plans and development regulations and in evaluating compliance with applicable environmental laws and plans.

One version of the project checklist was written that integrated GMA and SEPA, and combined the checklist and guidance into one document. In late 1997, comments from some committee members indicated this version was too long and complicated, and that applicants would not be able to get through it.

In 1998, another version was drafted that was intended to be simpler and separated the guidance from the checklist. A list of "Suggested Criteria for Evaluating a Draft Checklist" was then developed to guide the process (see Attachment B, Suggested Criteria for Evaluating Draft Checklist ). The criteria included: 1) meeting the stated project checklist purposes (see above), 2) creating a user friendly checklist, and 3) meeting the "list of fundamentals on which the effort to revise the checklist is based". The "list of fundamentals" was identified as:

  • Integrating SEPA and GMA, including using the same basic terminology;
  • Starting with decisions already made (don’t reevaluate previous analysis and decisions);
  • Providing a good project description and other elements of a notice of application (NOA) in the first section of the review form;
  • Providing a condensed format for simpler/consistent projects; and
  • Providing different forms for project and nonproject actions.

As part of testing preparation, a Usability Evaluation Plan was drafted for implementing the testing (see Attachment C, Usability Evaluation Plan - word format). The plan identified the following questions to be answered:

  • Is the form logical and helpful to the applicants and the agencies?
  • Do applicants fill out all the information?
  • Can applicants provide the requested information?
  • Does the form ask for the right and/or sufficient information?
  • Do the questions get answered correctly?
  • Can the agencies find the information?

The committee asked that both new versions and the existing checklist be tested. In 1999, consultation with a testing expert indicated that a three-way comparison test would be extremely difficult and costly, and beyond our capacity to do. She suggested we try to test one version, so staff created one version (known as the fourth version) that was between the two previously proposed. This version was tested with the use of: 1) one private applicant, 2) two Dept. of Fish and Wildlife applicants, 3) one Dept. of Transportation applicant, and 4) review by a team of Dept. of Natural Resource staff. Feedback from this group was reported to the committee (see Attachment D, Preliminary Results from Testing - word format and Attachment E, Feedback from Testing - word format). Minor changes were made to the form (version 4a) and more testing was planned.

The present testing phase began with the testing of Version 4a at Thurston County in December 2000. Six applicants and three lead agency staff used the form and provided feedback. Feedback from the applicants and staff is presented below in the Results section. As a result of Thurston County’s feedback, two other versions of the checklist were developed. There are currently three versions that are part of this testing phase.


Overview of Checklist Versions

The following brief overviews provide a general description of the objectives and format of each checklist. The checklists and guidance documents can be found in attachments F through K (see list of attachments above).

Attachment F – Version 4a Draft Environmental Checklist,
Attachment G – Version 4a Guidance,
Attachment H – Version 4b Draft Environmental Checklist,
Attachment I – Version 4b Guidance,
Attachment J – Version 5 Draft Environmental Checklist, and
Attachment K – Version 5 Guidance.

Brief Overview of Version 4a

PART A Background Information. Requests background information on the applicant, the lead agency, and the location of the site. It asks for names, addresses, and phone numbers.

PART B Property and Project Information. Requests basic information on the project and site, so applicants and reviewers can understand the project and the site changes, and how they fit in with the existing environment and adjacent areas. The applicant is first prompted to provide a narrative description of the project. Then they are asked for some basic facts including local designations and services, land uses and nearby water, critical areas, utility use, site changes, and transportation. Lastly, this part collects information about permits, reports and various phases of the project.

PART C Impacts and Mitigation. Provides information on changes, impacts and mitigation, of the natural and built environment. It would be possible to make the last question about impacts and mitigation optional for the applicant although the lead agency would still have to complete it.

PART D Site Plan. Provides a site map very similar to local jurisdiction site map requirements. Multiple maps can be attached.

This version is intended to walk an applicant, and later the lead agency, through the environmental analysis thought process. Information provided in Part B is intended to create a basis for everyone to understand the proposal. Part C asks screening questions that were designed to allow simple projects to answer fewer questions. For example a simple project that only answered yes to two questions, would only provide additional information on changes, impacts, and mitigation relative to the two "yes" answers. Additionally, information in part B, would allow not only the applicant to answer the questions in Part C, but also the lead agency and any reviewing agencies should have sufficient information to check the "applicant’s" answers to the screening questions in Part C.

This checklist focuses on linking the past environmental analysis and any existing regulations to the project under review as part of the effort to avoid duplication of previous environmental analysis and requirements of existing codes, rules, and ordinances. The checklist asks the applicant about relevant studies and plans and about existing requirements and as a result the applicant is asked to become familiar with applicable laws and relevant reports, etc.


 

Brief Overview of Version 4b

PART A Background Information. Requests basically the same information as version 4a except the applicant is not asked to provide a short 3-line project description on the first page. Modified version 4a by removing the lines and the double columns. There is generally more white space.

PART B Property and Project Information. Requests the same basic information as version 4a, but format is modified by removing many of the lines, providing more white space and larger font. Most of this section is comprised of check boxes and places for specific quantities. The format of this part is very similar to version 5 although there are fewer questions. The order of requested information has been changed with reports, permits, and phased projects moved to the front of Part B.

PART C Screening questions. Asks questions about the proposal and potential changes to the environment. Format consists of screening questions only. If "yes" or "maybe", the applicant is prompted to answer more questions on that item in part D.

PART D Changes, Impacts, and Mitigation. For each "yes" or "maybe" answer in Part C, the applicant must answer 3 questions, with a 4th question optional. The applicant must talk about the existing situation, the changes that the proposal would create, and any mitigation that they propose. They have the option of describing the impact and any other possible mitigation that could be implemented. This is a single page standard sheet that is completed for each area identified in Part C. For example, three "yes" answers in Part C would be reflected by three one page sheets completed for Part D.

PART E Site map Site maps detail before and after conditions of the Project Site and surrounding area.

The purpose of this version is very similar to version 4a. It is intended to walk an applicant, and later the lead agency, through the environmental analysis thought process. Information provided in Part B describes the proposal. Part C asks screening questions that were designed to allow simple projects to answer fewer questions. A simple project that only answered "yes" to two screening questions, would only provide additional information on changes, impacts, and mitigation relative to the two "yes" answers.

For areas of the environment that will or might be changed, Part D asks the applicant to "think" about the changes that their proposal will cause and to think about possible mitigation for those changes. 

This checklist focuses on linking the past environmental analysis and any existing regulations to the project under review as part of the effort to avoid duplication of previous environmental analysis and requirements of existing codes, rules, and ordinances. The checklist asks the applicant about relevant studies and plans and about existing requirements and as a result the applicant is asked to become familiar with applicable laws and relevant reports, etc.


 

Brief Overview of Version 5 

Part 1 Requests basic information: Who is doing What, Where and When; as well as listing what information is available (special reports) and what permits and/or agency approvals will be required.

Part 2 Asks for details: Information is requested on A) the Project Site’s and surrounding area’s current condition, including zoning and other designations, land use and character, plants, fish and wildlife, etc. and B) the changes that will occur as a result of the project.

Part 3 Requests a picture: Site maps detail before and after conditions of the Project Site and surrounding area.

Part 4 Focuses on potential impacts: Summarizes aspects of the current conditions and proposed changes and suggests areas of potential impact to be considered. The applicant and the lead agency are also provided the opportunity to rate whether the potential impacts would be minor, moderate, or major.

Part 5 Requests proposed mitigation: This portion is optional for the applicant so that knowledgeable applicants have the opportunity to provide this information, but the less knowledgeable aren’t overly burdened.

When developing this version of the checklist, the goals were to keep the language as simple as possible, provide as much white space as possible, and other formatting methods to make the form as unintimidating as possible and to allow the agency room to make comments throughout the form. The use of yes and no boxes was intended to force the applicant to provide some answer to each question, rather than leave it blank or write "NA".

There is a rather large amount of repeated questions in this version, first between Part 1 and Part 2 as Part 2 is intended to extract details that may have been omitted in the Project description. Much information is again requested in Part 3 for the site maps. Finally the information is summarized in Part 4 during the identification of potential impacts. The benefit is that agencies have a greater chance of extracting the information they need from the applicant. The drawback is the tedious burdening of the applicant.

Consideration has been made of making Part 4 a worksheet for the lead agency, rather than a portion filled out by the applicant. The advantage of having the applicant complete this portion is not only to reduce the burden on the lead agency, but to force the applicant to consider the potential impacts of their proposal. Even if the applicant proposes no mitigation themselves, it is thought Part 4 better prepares them to expect mitigation conditions from the lead agency.


II. Testing Description/Scenario

Background

With the help of a testing consultant, a testing plan was developed see Attachment C, Usability Evaluation Plan - word format). It was recognized that the test needed to account for a number of variables:

  • Applicants experienced and inexperienced at filling out SEPA checklists,
  • Applicants with complex projects and applicants with simple projects,
  • Projects in GMA jurisdictions and projects in non-GMA jurisdictions, and
  • Size of lead agency.

The testing was intended to include representation for each of the variables. It was also designed to test real applicants with their own real projects. Efforts were made to identify applicants and agencies willing to test the new checklist. After extensive efforts were generally ineffective, the test plan was revised and, as a result, may not be as comprehensive as originally envisioned.

The final testing was designed to include:

  • Complex and simple proposals
  • Experienced and inexperienced applicants
  • Both Eastern and Western Washington Lead Agencies

The final testing schedule and locations included:

  • Thurston County – December 2000 – January 2001
  • City of Yakima – March 2001

Projects

Thurston County Testing

Two real projects were selected. One project was a Sports Park on 73.17 acres with a wetland on site. It was described as a multiple-use sports and recreation facility, including eleven lighted softball fields, two soccer fields, a picnic area in an existing oak grove, a mini-golf course, four concession stands, a bowling alley, restaurant, retail and maintenance building and 1000 paved parking spaces. The adjacent areas included a mushroom farm, fire station, residential, vacant land, and the Lacey water tower. Potential issues associated with this project included wetland on site and traffic.

The second project was a residential development on 20 acres. It was described as 75 single-family residential lots, 8 townhouse lots and a reserved track for a 42-unit multi-family development. Some of the area would be reserved for landscaping, buffer and recreation. Adjacent areas mostly consisted of open space, one single-family subdivision, and a private park. Potential issues associated with this project included traffic and stormwater.

City of Yakima

Two real projects were also selected. The "simple" project was a demolition of a 19,600 square foot building known as "The Armory" in downtown Yakima. There was a long-term plan to build a justice building, although there were no specific plans for this phase of the project. There was some asbestos in the building. A potential issue associated with this project includes waste handling and disposal.

The second project was a phased 54-unit condominium with 108 paved parking spaces proposed on 5.61 acres. The site includes a "degraded" creek running along the south border. Adjacent areas include single-family, light industrial, and a racquet club. Potential issues associated with this project include potential impacts to the creek (water quality/quantity and habitat), stormwater, erosion during construction, views and glare, service extensions and road access .

Process

The process was basically the same during both tests:

Applicants

  1. Applicants were introduced, given instructions and told about the testing purpose
  2. Applicants received information about the sample project and were handed the draft checklist and guidance document
  3. Applicants completed the draft checklist
  4. Applicants then completed a questionnaire that asked questions about their previous experience with SEPA and asked how they felt about the form
  5. A round table discussion between applicants and observers allowed an open discussion of the form; notes were taken on feedback (see Attachment L, Comments from Applicants at Thurston County - word format and Attachment M, Comments from Applicants at Yakima - word format)

Lead Agency reviewers

  1. Lead agency staff were given the completed draft checklist
  2. Lead agency staff reviewed the draft checklist
  3. Ecology staff met with lead agency staff at a later scheduled time to discuss the lead agency staffs impressions (this was accomplished by teleconferencing with Yakima staff). Notes were taken on feedback (see Attachment N, Comments from Lead Agency at Thurston County - word format )
  4. Lead agency staff completed a questionnaire that asked questions about their previous experience with SEPA and asked how they felt about the form

Table A below summarizes the testing at both locations:

Table A - Details from Draft Project Checklist Testing

  Thurston County
Dec 2000
City of Yakima
March 2001
Room size and organization All testers in 1 large room with 1 large table; 2 observers available to take notes and answer questions All testers in 1 room with 1 smaller; 3 observers available to take notes and answer questions;
Local information and resources - 1 county person available for applicant questions

- help desk and computer access to a county website
- 1 county person available for applicant questions

- help desk and computer access to a city website
Number of participants 4 on the day of the test,

2 completed on their own
4 on the day of the test
Type of applicants 3 consultants; 3 Ecology employees (w/ water quality, waste, and GMA experience, respectively) 2 consultants; 2 Ecology employees (w/ SEPA and water quality experience, respectively)
Types of projects 2 - somewhat complex 1 complex; 1 simple
Versions being tested Version 4a Version 4b and 5
Questionnaires Applicant questionnaire

Lead agency reviewer questionnaire
Same as Thurston County questionnaire except with a few extra, specific questions
Lead agency reviewing staff - 2 with approximately 10 years experience with SEPA

- 1 with less than 3 years experience with SEPA
1 with 10 years experience in SEPA
Overall process   Room smaller – more conversation between applicants and/or observers regarding checklist and projects


III. Results

General Impressions

  • As a rule, applicants and agency staff were familiar with the existing checklist, either as applicants or reviewers.
  • Both agencies and applicants thought guidance in filling out the checklist was needed, although the applicants would have found it more useful to have the guidance in the checklist.
  • Version 4a was probably the bulkiest of the three versions, but applicants still complained about not having sufficient room to answer questions.
  • Thurston County staff did not like Version 4a at all.
  • City of Yakima applicants did not like the versions they tested (Versions 4b and 5), they wanted to stay with the existing checklist with the addition of guidance.
  • Lead agency staff did not specifically report whether the quality of the information provided by the applicants in the new version was different and may not have had time to review the completed versions sufficiently to compare this aspect.
  • Version 5 was the best received; some commented it most resembled the existing checklist.
  • Consultants had less trouble than unsophisticated applicants with all three versions.

Ecology’s Review of Completed Checklist

Review of specific sections

Site changes (Cover type changes) in Versions 4a, 4b, and 5

This section regarding site changes generally used the same format and requested the same information in all three versions of the form. It asked applicants to provide before and after acreage or square footage for different cover types (impervious surface, forest, meadow, water surface area, etc.). For all versions, applicants generally filled this section in a very haphazard or incomplete manner. The applicants were probably at a disadvantage due to limitations of the test. This type of information request is present in other states’ environmental review forms (New York and Minnesota). City of Yakima agency reviewer suggested this level of detail was unnecessary and to change it. The change would keep the surface cover types but not ask for specific quantities.

Impacts (with minor moderate, and major) in Version 5

Applicants (2) answered this section (Part 4.2) and answered the optional section regarding minor, moderate, and major. Although they did identify some minor impacts, they did not describe any mitigation for these issues or any others in the next section (Part 5).

Is there a way to get more thought and information from applicants on mitigation? If there were a link between the two sections, they might be reminded to think about and may provide some relevant information in the mitigation section. Another option would be to put sections 4.1 and 4.2 in guidance and put the mitigation back with the individual sections in Part 2.

Special Reports in Versions 4a, 4b, and 5

Version 4a had a Special Reports section in the front, similar to versions 4b and 5. In version 4a, though, applicants were reminded to think about their reports and to provide relevant information from them as they later answered questions about specific issues. In the later sections, the applicants provided more information about Special Reports. One applicant (an experienced consultant) even referred to and provided relevant information from the comprehensive plan. It is possible this may have been due more to the circumstances of the test environment (some applicants felt rushed at the end) and test project than due to the design of the form. (The testing numbers were too small to draw any certain conclusions about this).

In version 4b, the reports were listed and referenced later in the document. Applicants did not have a copy of the reports, so it is unknown whether they would have retrieved information from them to insert in Part D, Changes, Impacts and Mitigation.

In version 5, the special reports section functioned at a level similar to the existing checklist. The reports were listed and not referenced later. Applicants did not have a copy of the reports, so it is unknown whether they would have retrieved information from them to insert in the changes and mitigation sections of the checklist.

Review of different versions

Version 4a used by Thurston County

Based on the way the form was filled out, it appeared there was some confusion about how the screening questions worked and when to move to the next section or when to finish answering the questions for the current section. Generally applicants used the screening questions correctly.

Applicants provided more information about possible mitigation. Applicants linked the proposal to relevant reports/plans and reiterated the relevant information (it is possible this may have been a result of the testing conditions rather than the result of the form).

Version 4b used by City of Yakima (shortened version of 4a)

This version did not retrieve any more information from applicants than version 5. Answers in part C (screening questions) and D (existing, changes, and mitigation) appeared to be less useful than the similar answers in version 5. Applicants did not offer much description of mitigation, although there was more in this version than in version 5.

Version 5 used by City of Yakima

The sophisticated applicant misunderstood Part 4.1 Existing Conditions and filled out this section as if it referred to project changes. Both applicants left Part 5, Proposed Mitigation, blank. One applicant described some mitigation in Part 4. This applicant was in a hurry at the end and might have spent more time on Part 5 if he had not felt rushed.

The form elicited information about existing conditions regarding existing water quality in the creek, current uses of the site, including public use. Because mitigation was at the end and optional, it is possible applicants would forget to say anything.

Versions 4b and 5 used by Yakima

One key aspect of the more complex proposal was that water from impervious surfaces would go through an oil/water separator before infiltration on site. Neither version appeared to elicit this information from the applicant although they were fully aware of it (they verbally discussed the proposed use of oil/water separators before infiltration) After review of the forms, the city representative noted that it would be helpful to have more questions about stormwater handling because it is such a big issue.

Questionnaires

The applicant and lead agency volunteers answered questionnaires after completing their work on the test checklists. The questionnaires asked the volunteers to provide feedback on attributes of the form with a response using a rating scale (usually from 1 to 5, with 5 being best). The questionnaires also allowed the opportunity to provide narrative responses (included with discussion section of this report). Tables 1b through 6 present the compiled responses to the questionnaires. Responses of volunteers are pooled. However, results are separated to distinguish between test versions and between applicant and lead agency.

It should be noted that the sample size for the questionnaire responses is not large enough to strictly rely on the numerical results. However, when combined with feedback from the narrative response and the discussion, the results provide some insight into the effectiveness of the forms. In some cases, the individual response on the questionnaires differs from what was heard during the discussion portion of the testing.

Table 1 and Table 2 show responses to a variety of questions addressing the overall usability of the form. Table 1 shows only small differences between the three test versions. Version 4a seemed to be viewed favorably by the applicants, with the only negative response being the difficulty of getting information to complete the form. This is in contrast to the largely negative response from the lead agency on the same version. Version 5 received slightly higher applicant ratings than Version 4b. The lead agency reviewer for Versions 4b and 5 combined his response for both versions. Table 2 shows markedly differing responses by the two agencies on several of initial format related questions, possibly indicating improvements made prior to the City of Yakima test. At the bottom of Table 2, responses from the City of Yakima indicate how well the form integrated information requirements of other forms.

Table 1: Applicant Responses on Overall Usability of Form
(Average response of all respondents. Responses scored from 1 to 5, with 5 being best)

Question Version 4a (Thurston) Version 4b (Yakima) Version 5 (Yakima)
Number of applicants

6

2

2

Order of questions

3.8

3

3

Page format

3.5

2.5

3.5

Understanding the questions

3.3

3

3.5

Duplicate questions

N/A

1.5

2.5

Getting information to answer the questions

2

2.5

2.5

Form allowed me to provide necessary information to the lead agency
(yes/no, number of responses)

Yes = 4

No = 2

Yes = 2

Yes = 1

No = 1

Used instructions
(yes/no, number of responses)

Yes = 3

No = 3

Yes = 2

Yes = 2

Instructions helpful and understandable

3.7

2.8

3.4


Table 2: Lead Agency Responses on Overall Usability of Form

(Average response of all respondents. Responses scored from 1 to 5, with 5 being best)

Question Version 4a (Thurston) Versions 
4b and 5
(Yakima)
Number of agency staff reviewers

3

1

Order of questions

2.7

4

Page format

1.7

4

Understanding the questions

2

4

Reviewing the answers to questions

3.3

3

Verifying the answers

3

3

Questions asked for needed info

3

4

Completed checklist provided necessary information

2.5

4

No unnecessary information

2.5

3

Need for separate agency guidance

NA

Yes

Used instructions
(yes/no, number of responses)

No = 2

Yes

Instructions helpful and understandable

NA

4

Overall ease/difficulty of form review

2

3

Integrates Notice of Application (NOA) information requirements

NA

2

Integrates agency's Master Application information requirements

NA

4

Integrates Joint Aquatics Resources Permit Application (JARPA) information requirements

NA

2

Table 3 and Table 4 compare the existing SEPA checklist (WAC 197-11-960) to the versions used in the tests. The Thurston County test showed very different responses by the applicants versus the lead agency; the applicants showed a strong preference for the test version, whereas the lead agency strongly preferred the existing version. The City of Yakima responses were less emphatic, with no clear preference shown by the applicants. There does appear to be some overall agreement that existing checklist is easier and that the test versions are more complete.


Table 3: Applicant Responses Comparing Test Version to Existing Checklist

Checklist Attributes Version 4a
(Thurston)
Version 4b
(Yakima)
Version 5
(Yakima)
existing test existing test existing test
Easier

2

2

2

 

1

 
More logical  

4

1

   

1

More helpful  

4

1

1

 

1

More understandable  

4

1

 

1

 
More complete  

4

1

1

 

1

Overall, which do you prefer  

4

1

1

1

 


Table 4: Lead Agency Responses Comparing Test Versions to Existing Checklist

Checklist Attributes Version 4a
(Thurston)
Versions 4b and 5
(Yakima)
existing test existing test
Easier

2

 

1

 
More logical

1

   

1

More helpful

1

   

1

More understandable

2

   

1

More complete  

1

 

1

Overall, which do you prefer

2

   

1

Table 5 and Table 6 shows responses to some specific question regarding formatting issues. These questions were added for the City of Yakima test. Table 5 shows that the applicants were generally agreeable on formatting issues, even when the questions were intended to elicit a preference (e.g., two respondents indicated that they liked both lines and white space to write in). The only strongly negative response was on multiple column formatting. The response on questions regarding guidance seems to indicate that the applicants universally like to see guidance in the form itself, although some also like more detail proved in a separate guidance document. Table 6 shows lead agency response to formatting questions that were asked only during the Yakima test.


Table 5: Applicant Responses on Specific Formatting Issues
(Shows number of responses for each question within category)

Specific format issue Version 4b
(Yakima)
Version 5
(Yakima)
Like Don’t Like Don’t Care Like Don’t Like Don’t Care
Lines to write in

2

   

1

1

 
White space to write in

1

 

1

2

   
Boxes organizing questions on page

2

   

1

 

1

Guidance in the form itself

2

   

2

   
Guidance in separate document

1

1

 

1

1

 
Check boxes

2

       

2

Single column of questions

2

   

2

   
More than one column  

2

   

2

 


Table 6: Lead Agency Responses on Specific Formatting Issues
(Shows number of responses for each question within category)

Specific format issue Versions 4b and 5

(Yakima)

Like Don’t Like Don’t Care
Organize form separating sections with fact finding questions from sections with analysis questions

1

   
Organize form by resources issue  

1

 
Screening questions  

1

 
Asking open ended questions requiring narrative response

1

   
Asking mostly yes/no questions

1

   

 

Discussion

Version 4a - Used by Thurston County

Applicant feedback (4 people)

  • Prefer to have necessary guidance in the checklist.
  • Spacing and indents were confusing.
  • Questioned value of question about plans, etc. w/each question.
    • Some people referred to a report only and attached the report.
    • Some people referred to a report and wrote an answer.
  • When answering part C questions about changes, impacts, and mitigation, would reference and attach the whole report.
  • Wanted to know what degree of accuracy was needed for quantities requested, (e.g., sq. ft of impervious surface)? If it is an estimate and the number changes what do we do about SEPA?
    • Could approximate but need to know what precision is desired.
  • Believed it would be good to have a section at the end filled out by agency that describes reports required/turned in.
  • Stated assumption that no applicant would say rule doesn’t fully mitigate or identify impacts.
  • Part B. lengthy but helped with part C
  • Liked screening questions

Lead agency feedback (3 staff people)

  • Uses the checklist to find out what the applicant knows; does not rely solely on the checklist to provide all the information, or even accurate information.
  • Would like a place for agency comments on more of the form.
  • Think this form gets less information from the applicants than in the current checklist.
  • Don’t like screening questions. Use yes/no questions—more like the existing checklist.
  • Most important parts of the existing checklist are: Tax parcel, Address, Attached reports.
  • 24% of the applicants are foresters – not thought capable of answering these questions.
  • Formatting confusing.
  • Simplify the questions.
  • Avoid asking duplicative questions in different parts.
  • Add "for examples" that are listed in the test version to the existing checklist.

Versions 4b and 5 - Used in Yakima

Applicant feedback (4 people)

  • Loved the guidance
  • Preferred guidance integrated into the form
  • Preferred the existing checklist
  • Consultants said they could fill out any form (these were not the worst they had seen)
  • Yes/no boxes are okay but there needs to be a specific question not just a line item with a box to check – too confusing
  • Did not like duplicate questions
  • Generally not too technical
  • No more difficult to get information than existing checklist
  • In version 4b, liked the Part C screening question (liked answering questions)
  • In version 5, thought section 4.2 on impacts allowed the applicant to indicate a mild impact when they don’t have specific numbers
  • Recommended using the existing checklist and providing guidance

Lead agency feedback (1 person)

  • Gave the guidance a rating of 4 stars.
  • Partial to the existing checklist – used to it, although version 5 received the highest rating.
  • Liked the fact that the test versions asked the same question more than once (e.g. asked for in project description narrative, asked for later with yes/no boxes and requests for specific numbers.
  • Thought some sections weren’t important to his review, but that all three forms would provide the information needed.
  • Considers the site plan to be the most valuable tool for evaluating a project, and that site plan in the versions had lots of merit
  • Did not feel this form would be used to substitute for other forms such as a master application or JARPA because water is such a big issue and warrants its own form
  • Liked getting numbers as part of the answers (this is different from the existing checklist)
  • Liked specific information request on the adjacent areas (north, south, east, west)
  • Would like more questions about handling stormwater
  • Suggested providing examples at the end, like the JARPA form
  • In version 4b, did not like the part C screening page (too crowded, too technical)
  • In version 5:
  • Particularly liked the questions in Part 2
  • Provided good transportation questions, although he suggested there could be a few more since transportation is a big issue
  • Was okay with Section 4,2 that asks the applicant to think about impacts (honesty check for applicant) although later he thought it might open up a can of worms
  • Liked asking about the character of the site
  • It was okay that part 5 listing mitigation was optional
  • If the existing checklist were revised, he would add boxes and critical area questions, a site map, and guidance


IV. Conclusions and Questions for Advisory Committee

This section provides analysis of how well the project checklist versions performed - based on both test results and Ecology's own review of the checklist versions. A key issue for the revision process, and a range of possible Ecology actions related to the project review form is described. Specific questions Ecology requests input from the SEPA Checklist Advisory Committee is also detailed.

Checklist Version Comparison

Table 7 contains a comparison of the checklist versions and the existing checklist against the evaluation criteria and goals that were previously identified. While the test versions were able to improve on the existing checklist in a number of areas, no version was effective in meeting all the criteria.

Table 7: Checklist Versions Compared to Evaluation Criteria
(How well did checklist version meet criteria? Rated from 1 to 5, with 5 being best)

Evaluation Criteria Version 4a Version 4b Version
5
Existing Checklist
Integrates SEPA and GMA and uses same terminology

5

5

5

1

Starts with decisions already made, rely on previous analysis

4

3

1

1

Contains good project description

4

4

4

2

Contains NOA elements

2

2

2

1

Condensed format for simpler or consistent projects

4

5

2

2

Form and associated guidance is logical and helpful

2

3

4

3

Applicants fill out all the information

3

2

2

1

Applicants can provide the requested information

2

2

2

3

The form ask for the right and/or sufficient information

4

3

4

1

The questions get answered correctly

3

3

3

2


Key Issue

A key issue remains unresolved. Should we proceed with a checklist version that does not support "Starts with decisions already made, relies on previous analysis"?

As stated in the Background Section, one of the key objectives of the checklist revision effort was to create a checklist that could be used as a tool to assist agencies to be able to "add" to previous environmental analysis and to fill the "gaps" in environmental regulations. It appears that designing a checklist to accomplish this objective is perceived as making it longer and more difficult. Version 5 and the existing checklist do not accomplish this objective. Changing version 5 to meet this objective would essentially negate many of the strengths of this version.

There are many barriers to accomplishing this objective. The checklist is only one tool that, even if perfectly designed, could not alone result in full success in meeting this objective. Practically speaking, the objective is a difficult one. With the current tracking system for existing environmental data and the challenges of accessing relevant information in plans, rules, and ordinances, it is difficult for any one person (applicant or agency staff) to identify: 1) analysis that is already done and 2) all local, state, and federal regulations that fully or partly mitigate impacts.

The first checklist version, known as version 2 (See Attachment O, Version 2 Draft Environmental Checklist) was probably formatted in a manner that would best accomplish this checklist objective. It was not well received by several committee members. It was felt that average applicants could not fill it out. Guidance was integrated into the checklist, resulting in a lot of text and discussion for each question. Terminology was fairly technical. As a result of various factors, this version did not get tested and was modified and integrated with version 3. Because this version did not get tested, it is unknown how well it would have accomplished the objective.

Direction and Next Steps

Ecology would like to move forward to resolution of the project checklist issue, regardless of whether we drop the effort or move forward with broader public review of a proposed form. If we are going to make rule changes to the project checklist, it would best occur simultaneous with nonproject revisions.

At a minimum, Ecology would like to proceed with creating some guidance materials for checklist users and also making some minor changes to the existing checklist. From the testing efforts, we received positive feedback on guidance; ideally the guidance would be included both in the form itself and in a more detailed companion guidance document. Additionally, we would like to further investigate adding a requirement for inclusion of a site map with the checklist.

If the SEPA Checklist Advisory can reach consensus on a version of the checklist to pursue, further improvement can be made to that version and Ecology can proceed with a broader public review. If there is no consensus among advisory committee members, Ecology will likely focus efforts on guidance and minor changes to the existing checklist (e.g., include GMA terminology).

Questions for SEPA Checklist Advisory Committee

At a future advisory committee meeting, Ecology would like to hear responses from the committee members to the following questions. For members not attending, we would like to receive response by the end of April, 2001.

  1. Considering the variety of checklist versions that have been developed, is there a project checklist format that Ecology should finish developing?
  2. What are key components to be included in a final version?
  3. What are appropriate next steps?
  4. Should Ecology continue its work to adopt a new project checklist in 2001, place the effort on hold, or drop it altogether?
  5. What is the recommended relationship between the nonproject and project checklist rule revisions?

 

For general questions or comments concerning SEPA, please e-mail the SEPA Unit or call (360) 407-6922.