Environmental Overview

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What is the State Environmental Policy Act?

The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) was established to require requires all governmental agencies to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal and allow the public to comment on a proposal before a decision is made. The State of Washington Department of Ecology developed an environmental checklist as an evaluation tool and requires its use by the city and project proponents.

What is the purpose of the Environmental Checklist?

The checklist provides information to help you and the city determine how your proposed development will impact the environment and how those impacts might be reduced or avoided. The checklist helps the city determine whether the impacts will be significant, requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). If the applicant and the city or other lead agency agree that an Environmental Impact Statement is required, the checklist does not need to be completed.

Is the checklist the same as an EIS?

No. The checklist is an evaluation tool used in part to evaluate the significance of any environmental impacts from a proposal and whether a proposal requires an EIS.

Do all proposals require a checklist?

SEPA contains a list of “categorical exemptions” that are exempt from SEPA requirements. If the type of project you propose is included in the and is not in a critical area, you do not need to fill out a checklist. However, please check with the city staff to confirm your proposal is exempt from SEPA review.

Is single-family construction exempt from SEPA?

In most cases, construction of a single family residence is exempt from SEPA. However, if your project includes work in a critical area such as a steep slope, wetland, lake, or stream buffer, the exemption may not apply. If related work such as utility installation exceeds a categorical exemption then SEPA review may be required for construction of that improvement.

Who can fill out the checklist?

The checklist is designed so that anyone can answer the checklist questions using their observations or project plans, without the need to hire experts. However more complex projects may require more complex answers and the assistance of a qualified professional may be needed to provide complete answers. Sometimes, depending on the nature or complexity of the proposal or its impacts, the checklist needs to be supplemented by technical information and analysis—such as a wetland or stream studies, geotechnical evaluation, traffic impact analysis, or similar documentation. Technical studies and reports must be prepared by a qualified professional.

How should the questions be answered?

All questions must have an answer even if the answer is “no” or “none”. If you do not know the answer, or if a question does not apply to your proposal, write “do not know” or “does not apply.” You should answer the checklist questions briefly but as accurately and completely as possible. Focus especially on the project description; ensure it accurately describes the full project scope trigger. Also please be sure to sign the checklist when finished.

What if my proposal has adverse impacts?

The City will evaluate the impacts to determine whether they are significant and whether they can be reduced or avoided. In most cases, impacts can be avoided or reduced to an acceptable level if the proponent makes project revisions or agrees to incorporate measures into the proposal that will mitigate the impacts.

Will adverse impacts cause my proposal to be denied?

Adverse impacts do not automatically result in project denial. Usually, the project can be approved if the impacts are sufficiently mitigated by code requirements, project revisions or conditions of project approval ensuring the incorporation of mitigating measures. No proposal can be denied under SEPA unless an EIS is first prepared. However, even the requirement for an EIS does not necessarily lead to denial of the proposal.

Can supporting information be included with the checklist?

If you have drawings, proposal descriptions, environmental studies, or similar materials, they should be added to the checklist as appendices and submitted with your completed checklist to the City. Your responses to the checklist questions should summarize the information presented in the appendices.

Does my proposal require the preparation of an EIS?

Although just about every proposal has environmental impacts of some kind, only proposals that will have probable significant adverse impacts require that an EIS be prepared. Typically, such proposals are large and complex. Most smaller projects do not require an EIS.