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Permitting Process

Biosolids facilities in Washington operate under a statewide General Permit for Biosolids Management issued by the Department of Ecology (Ecology). Rather than being issued an individual permit, facilities apply for, and gain coverage under the General Permit. The General Permit covers all permitted facilities in Washington and provides authorization of biosolids management in accordance with the state rule, Chapter 173-308, Biosolids Management. Applicants are strongly encouraged to read the General Permit and review the state biosolids rule prior to starting the application process.

The permitting process includes several steps:
Step 1: Contact Ecology and determine if you need to obtain permit coverage and what documents and plans you need to submit.
Step 2: Fill out the Application for Coverage along with draft versions of other required plans.
Step 3: Ecology review of your draft application package-optional.
Step 4: Sign the application.
Step 5: State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review.
Step 6: Public notice.
Step 7: Submit a complete application package to Ecology.
Step 8: Issuance of Final Coverage by Ecology.

Step 1: Determine if you need to obtain permit coverage

Contact your regional Ecology Biosolids Coordinator to discuss your Facility and how the permit program applies to you and to get help with the process. The following is a list of facilities that have a legal obligation to obtain coverage under the General Permit for Biosolids Management:
  • Publicly owned (federal, state, or local) sewage treatment facilities of any size,
  • Privately owned treatment works of any size treating only domestic wastewater,
  • Treatment works at an industrial facilities that treat only sewage with no industrial influent,
  • Beneficial Use Facilities,
  • Composting facilities that use biosolids as one of the feedstocks,
  • Septage management facilities.

Step 2: Application for Coverage and other draft plans

Obtain a copy of the Application for Coverage and templates for other plans required for your application.

Existing facilities must submit an Application for Coverage within 90 days following issuance of a new General Permit. This is to make sure that all facilities provide Ecology with updated information and a current signature from an appropriate authority.

New facilities must submit their permit application at least 180 days prior to conducting any activities. New Facilities must pay a "new facility review fee" prior to being placed in the queue for permit application review by Ecology. A new facility will not be eligible for provisional or final coverage until they pay the fee.

A completed Application Package includes the following:
  • Application for Coverage form. Make sure you fill out the entire form. Include a brief but comprehensive description of your facility and biosolids handling plans in Section D of the form. When possible, use the electronic version of the Application for Coverage.
  • Vicinity map of the facility and any associated treatment or storage facilities,
  • Treatment facility schematic,
  • Confirmation that SEPA has been met- affidavit of publication, copy of threshold determination made by SEPA lead official, or letter by the SEPA lead official stating that SEPA requirements have been met,
  • Signature by an appropriate official,
  • Sampling and analysis plan.
The following components may also be required:
  • Land application plans,
  • Spill prevention/response plan,
  • Monitoring data,
  • Contingency plan for exceptional quality biosolids,
  • Temporary disposal plan.
To ensure the most efficient processing, your application must be complete. Poor quality applications with incomplete or incorrect information delay processing and may be returned for more information.

Step 3: Draft permit review - optional

Review of a draft permit application by Ecology is not required. However, you are encouraged to work closely with your regional biosolids coordinator while you develop your application to ensure that you submit a complete and correct permit application. This will help avoid returned applications and further delays in permit processing. You should begin the process far in advance of your application due date. Be sure to coordinate with your regional biosolids coordinator early on, before you begin preparing your application.

Step 4: Signing your application

Your permit application must be signed by a responsible authority, see WAC 173-308-310(10) (Signatories to permit applications, notices of intent, reports, and other documents). This is usually an upper level manager, elected official, or corporate officer. The signature of facility operators is generally not acceptable for this purpose or for annual report submittal.

Step 5: SEPA Review

You must comply with the requirements of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) during the biosolids permitting process. SEPA review is triggered when you apply for coverage under the General Permit. It's important to have a complete draft permit application package developed in advance of SEPA review. In order for the SEPA review to be meaningful, the review must be conducted on a permit package that includes all the required components.

Municipalities generally act as their own lead agencies. This means that the local government typically has people who are experts with SEPA and conduct the evaluation. Confer with your local SEPA official or contact Ecology to determine what agency has the SEPA lead for your project. You must complete a SEPA checklist or defer to a previously submitted checklist if it adequately covers the proposal. The approving authority will use this information to make a Threshold Determination under SEPA.

Before Final Coverage can be issued, Ecology must have evidence of compliance with, and review of the permit package under SEPA. This may be accomplished by submitting to Ecology a copy of the threshold determination made by the SEPA lead official or a letter by the SEPA lead official stating that SEPA requirements have been met.

Step 6: Public Notice

There are two separate, but concurrent processes taking place when you apply for coverage under the General Permit. First, there is the permit application itself. This process requires Public Notice under the state biosolids rule; see 173-308-310 (13). The biosolids rule requires that all applicants conduct Public Notice for their permit coverage. You must publish a Public Notice in the newspaper and notify everyone on your Interested Parties List.

Secondly, the SEPA process itself usually requires Public Notice. This is a separate requirement from the Public Notice required by the biosolids rule. You may combine the SEPA Public Notice with the Public Notice required by the biosolids rule. To be valid for both processes, you must state that the Public Notice is for both SEPA and your permit, and be clear if the contact officials or response periods are different. The SEPA lead official may be associated with local government. The person responsible for permit evaluation will always be with Ecology. The comment period required by the state biosolids rule is a minimum of 30 days, but the SEPA Public Notice requirement is typically shorter.

Step 7: Submit a complete application package to Ecology

You must submit a copy of your completed application package to Ecology, and to the local health district in each county where your biosolids will be treated, stored, disposed, or applied to the land. Include a cover letter that describes what you're submitting, the process you have gone through thus far (public notice, etc.), and explain any concerns or questions you may have.

Step 8: Issuance of Final Coverage by Ecology

Ecology will make a determination to approve or deny coverage under the general permit after we review your completed application and consider all properly submitted comments from the public notice period. If you are denied coverage, you will receive a letter explaining the reasons for the denial. If coverage is approved, you will receive a Final Coverage letter stating that you are covered and describing any additional or more stringent requirements you must comply with. The timeframe for issuing Final Coverage after Ecology receives a complete application varies. Applicants should consult their regional biosolids coordinator for more information.

Additional Notes on the Process:

Provisional and Final Approval of Coverage
Facilities that have submitted a complete application package are provisionally approved to manage biosolids in accordance with the requirements of the General Permit for Biosolids Management, the state biosolids rule, and any submitted plans. Provisional approval is valid until Ecology conducts a final review of your application and issues a Final Coverage letter. Final Coverage may take a long time. Ecology works with limited resources and there are approximately 380 facilities in Washington. Beneficial Use Facilities are not eligible for provisional coverage and cannot manage biosolids until Ecology issues a Final Coverage letter.

The General Permit for Biosolids Management is a 5 year permit. Individual coverage under the General Permit will be valid until the General Permit expires. Permit coverage may extend past the General Permit expiration if the facility submits a "Notice of Intent to Continue/Obtain Coverage" no less than 180 days before the permit expires. They must also remain in compliance with the rule, the permit, and any submitted plans.

Appeal Process for the Permit Coverage
Upon issuance of final coverage under the permit, facilities have the right to appeal any additional conditions imposed on their operation. Appeals must be filed with the Pollution Control Hearings Board and served on the department within 30 days of receipt of the Final Coverage letter. The process for making an appeal is described in the Final Coverage letter itself.