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Shoreline Master Programs

State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)

Every shoreline permit must be accompanied by demonstration of compliance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Some projects will require an environmental impact statement (EIS); others a determination of nonsignificance (DNS) and environmental checklist, or a determination of categorical exemption. Compliance with SEPA, including all review or waiting periods, is required before a decision on an application can be made. The shoreline permit application and SEPA analysis should identify future uses intended for the site to avoid the possibility of piecemeal or inappropriate phasing of development.

SEPA establishes a detailed administrative process for assuring that environmental impacts are recognized, evaluated, and where possible, mitigated during agency decision-making. Equally important, the SEPA process provides a major avenue for public comments on a proposed project to be solicited and addressed by the agency with oversight. The SEPA process is intended to mesh with other permits, approvals, and/or licenses. Compliance with SEPA must be verified on all Shoreline permits and on other shoreline related activities such as amendment of the Shoreline Master Program. The complete SEPA process is provided by the provisions of RCW 43.21C and WAC 197-11.

The SEPA process interacts with the shoreline management process in several ways. Compliance with SEPA is required for issuance of a shoreline permit. Conditioning and denial of a shoreline permit may be done under powers granted by SEPA rules [WAC 197-11-660]. The SEPA checklist must identify all local, state, and/or federal permits or approvals that may be required. An EIS should include an evaluation of the project's consistency with existing plans and policies (e.g. the local SMP) and zoning regulations. [Note: Only those elements that will be “significantly” impacted need to be evaluated in an EIS. The Land Use element of SEPA may not be significantly impacted enough to be included in a final EIS.]   For these reasons, it's important to remember that the "umbrella" of SEPA compliance extends over the whole shoreline administration process.

Federal agencies are required to consider the environmental impacts of agency sponsored developments, permits, and grants under processes defined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Like SEPA, NEPA requires full disclosure of environmental impacts and their consideration by an agency prior to a decision. Under NEPA, agencies prepare an environmental assessment ("EA"), and use it to determine whether an EIS is required. For projects not requiring an EIS, a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) is issued. NEPA requires examination of some economic and technical considerations that are excluded from SEPA.

Some tips on SEPA/Shorelines:

When a shoreline permit is required, the local jurisdiction will typically be the lead agency for SEPA but not always. The most notable exception is when a project is proposed by a governmental unit (special purpose district, city, county, state agency, etc.). The proposing unit of government is always the lead agency for a governmental project. In other circumstances on privately proposed projects other agencies may assume the lead agency responsibilities. Check SEPA rules for lead agency.

It is important to track a project's separate compliance with the different review periods and public notice requirements stipulated under SEPA and the SMA. Never issue the shoreline permit until the SEPA review periods are complete (fourteen day review for DNSs; seven day waiting period for a final EIS). Failure to observe the review periods could lead to remanding of the permit by the Shoreline Hearings Board.

Require that a site plan and as much detailed information as you can obtain be part of the SEPA checklist. Local administrators can use SEPA as a preliminary assessment of permits. Requesting site plans and detailed information will also help Ecology staff evaluate the proposal in its early stages, and they will be more able to provide useful comments earlier in the process. Most SEPA documents are filed with Ecology, and projects identified as requiring shoreline permits are reviewed by Shoreline staff.

For more information

Contact Ecology's shoreline permit reviewer serving your town, city, or county.

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