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State Environmental Policy Act

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What is SEPA?

The State Environmental Policy Act ("SEPA," Chapter 43.21C RCW) was adopted in 1971 to ensure that environmental values were considered during decision-making by state and local agencies.

The environmental review process in SEPA is designed to work with other regulations to provide a comprehensive review of a proposal. Most regulations focus on particular aspects of a proposal, while SEPA requires the identification and evaluation of probable impacts to all elements of the built and natural environment. Conducting SEPA review with other regulatory review reduces duplication and delay by combining study needs, comment periods, and public notices.  It allows agencies, applicants, and the public to consider all aspects of a proposal at the same time.

Where do I begin?

The SEPA process most often begins when you submit the first permit application for your proposal. You may be required to have a pre-application meeting to discuss your project, permit requirements, and the SEPA process. Not all projects are required to go through the SEPA process. Many permits issued by Yakima County Public Services do not require environmental review.   Smaller projects including some building permits and minor land use decisions do not require environmental review; as such, these projects are  "categorically exempt" from SEPA review (WAC 197-11-800).

Yakima County Planning typically assumes “lead agency” status for most private projects within the County that require permits from Yakima County Public Services.

Lead Agency Responsibilities Include:

  • Reviewing all environmental aspects of your proposal, including those under the jurisdiction of other agencies;
  • Identifying potential adverse environmental impacts;
  • Determining whether the environmental impacts of your proposal are likely to be significant after  identified mitigation is applied;
  • Issuing the SEPA documents.

How do I begin?

Your first step in the SEPA process is filling out the environmental checklist. The purpose of the environmental checklist is to provide information to identify likely environmental impacts from proposals and to reduce or avoid these impacts, if possible. The agency will also use this information to decide whether the likely environmental impacts of the project need further study, have been adequately addressed by existing regulations, or can be mitigated.

The checklist has questions about your project and both the built environment (land use, transportation, utilities and services, etc.) and the natural environment (water, air, plants, animals, etc.). As you complete the checklist, you should think of ways to reduce the impacts of your project. Modifications made by you or Yakima County are most easily integrated early in the development of your proposal.

In most cases, you should be able to adequately answer most, if not all, of the questions yourself based on a familiarity with the project and the site. A consultant may be needed if your proposal is complex or requires additional studies, such as a wetland report or transportation study, are requested. Some applicants prefer to hire a consultant to complete all of the necessary paperwork.

Before you begin, scan through the checklist, so you are familiar with the range of questions. Often, one question will bring to mind information that will help you answer another more completely. Your complete and accurate answers on the checklist help us determine what other agencies will have decisions related to your project, who will be lead agency, and how your proposal is likely to affect the environment. The checklist also provides information to other permitting agencies and those interested in your proposal.

Complete each question to the best of your ability. An answer of "not applicable" should only be used after careful consideration of the question. Failing to provide adequate information is likely to delay the process.

You are encouraged to use any existing environmental analysis related to your proposal. Local planning documents, such as the comprehensive plan and subarea plans, or projects of a similar type located near to your proposal, may have related studies.

Information on past actions, related off-site activities, future expansions and planned actions in connected to your proposal allows the lead agency to decide what activities should be evaluated together.

What is "mitigation"?

During review of your proposal, the lead agency may identify possible adverse environmental impacts. If so, you and the agency can work together to identify ways to reduce the impacts, either through changes to the proposal or identification of mitigation measures. Mitigation measures are usually conditions placed on the permit or approval.

Mitigation is defined as (WAC197-11-768):

  • Avoiding;
  • Minimizing;
  • Repairing or restoring;
  • Reducing or eliminating over time;
  • Replacing, enhancing, or providing substitute resources; and/or
  • Monitoring the impact and taking appropriate corrective measures.

Mitigation may involve almost anything, such as paying impact fees to local school districts, or changing the design of the project to avoid impacts to wetlands or other sensitive areas. Some mitigation may be required by city or county development regulations, or other local, state, or federal laws. Mitigation can also be based on information on adverse environmental impacts in the SEPA document.

For more information about SEPA, see the Washington State Department of Ecology’s SEPA website.

To find out if your project will require SEPA review, please contact the Yakima County Public Services Planning Division at (509) 574-2300.