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The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), provides a way to identify possible environmental impacts that may result from governmental decisions. These decisions may be related to issuing permits for private projects, constructing public facilities, or adopting regulations, policies or plans.

Information provided during the SEPA review process helps agency decision-makers, applicants, and the public understand how a proposal will affect the environment. This information can then be used to change a proposal to reduce likely impacts, or to condition or deny a proposal when adverse environmental impacts are identified.

See also: SEPA website (Washington State Department of Ecology)

The Shoreline Management Act (SMA), adopted by the public in a 1972 referendum, is a policy framework designed “to prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines.” The SMA has three broad policies:

  • Encourage water-dependent uses: "uses shall be preferred which are consistent with control of pollution and prevention of damage to the natural environment, or are unique to or dependent upon use of the states' shorelines...”
  • Protect shoreline natural resources, including "...the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the water of the state and their aquatic life..."
  • Promote public access: “the public’s opportunity to enjoy the physical and aesthetic qualities of natural shorelines of the state shall be preserved to the greatest extent feasible consistent with the overall best interest of the state and the people generally."

See also: RCW 90.58, Introduction to the Shoreline Management Act (Washington State Department of Ecology)

The 1990 Growth Management Act (GMA), enacted by the state legislature, is designed to provide coordinated land use planning for future population growth between citizens, communities, local governments, and the private sector.

This helps protect the environment, foster sustainable economic development, and promote the health, safety, and quality of life of all residents. The GMA requires all cities and counties in Washington to:

  • Designate and protect wetlands, frequently flooded areas and other critical areas.
  • Designate farm lands, forest lands, and other natural resource areas.
  • Determine that new residential subdivisions have appropriate provisions for public services and facilities.

See also: RCW 36.70A, King County Growth Management Planning Council

A variety of permits may need to be obtained for WTD projects. Generally, any work activities that require excavation or fill or require in-water work may need to obtain a permit.

Permits must be obtained from the local jurisdiction, and requirements vary depending on the jurisdiction.

Examples of discretionary permits (i.e. subject to appeal) include:

  • Shoreline permit: A shoreline permit is required for work activities within 100 feet of the shoreline.
  • Army Corps of Engineers (COE) permit: Section 10 (Work In Navigable Waters) or Section 404 (Excavation and Fill) may be required for any in-water work in COE jurisdictional waters.
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA): An HPA is required for work that will use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of state waters. State waters include all marine waters and fresh waters of the state, except those watercourses that are entirely artificial, such as irrigation ditches, canals, and stormwater run-off devices.

Examples of non-discretionary permits include:

  • Building
  • Clear and Grade
  • Land Use Review
  • Electrical
  • Mechanical
  • Fire

Eminent domain is the right of the government to acquire private property for a public use, on the payment of just compensation and following due process of law.

Condemnation is the legal seizure of property by a government authority for public use, through powers of eminent domain in exchange for fair market value.

King County WTD always proceeds under threat of condemnation but makes every effort to negotiate in good faith before taking the necessary steps to condemn.

An easement is the right to use the real property of another for a specific purpose. The easement is itself a real property interest, but legal title to the underlying land is retained by the original owner for all other purposes. 

Typical easements involving King County WTD are for sewer lines both under and above ground. Our Real Property Agents will contact the property owner and discuss the details of the project and any specific impacts upon their property, including any intended easements, permanent or temporary.

Permanent easement

A permanent easement is generally:

  • Used for sewer lines under and above ground and associated structures;
  • Contains the right to use a specified area of a property;
  • Remains after the project is complete; and is
  • A real property interest, with the title to the property retained by the original owner for all other purposes. 

A typical permanent easement would be for subterranean rights for a sewer line and would include an access agreement. The property owner may still use the land where the easement is located, but cannot erect a permanent structure on top of the easement area. Sometimes there are additional restrictions as well. The terms of a permanent construction easement, including any compensation (if applicable) are negotiated in good faith between the King County representative and the property owner.

Temporary construction easement

A temporary construction easement is generally:

  • Used to facilitate construction of a project, and
  • Terminates at the end of construction or at the end of a specific use period.

For example, a 25-foot-wide permanent easement may not provide ample space for construction. An additional 15 feet may be needed for the actual construction and would be acquired as a temporary construction easement. The length and terms of the temporary construction easement area negotiated between the King County representative and the property owner.

A right of entry grants the right to enter upon the real property of another for a special purpose (i.e. environmental assessment, survey, or site inspection) without being guilty of trespass.

Often a right of entry will be used in conjunction with an easement and it is typically agreed upon and signed to provide access before the easement is negotiated and finalized.

Sometimes the right of entry is negotiated on its own and is not necessarily associated with the negotiation of an easement. This can occur when King County WTD is testing in an area and accessing properties that may not be needed or included in the final plan for an facility update or capital project.

A rights of entry is typically negotiated between the King County representative and the property owner. A right of entry document is then prepared by the County and reviewed and signed by the property owner.


Claire Christian
Property Center program manager