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Recommendation: 27

Status: Underway

Determine how permit applications in Washington State that could increase traffic and vessel impacts could be required to explicitly address potential impacts to orcas.


Action 1

State agencies should study potential requirements for permit applications to explicitly address potential impacts to Southern Resident orcas and treat underwater noise as a “primary constituent element” of critical habitat and report to the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whales Task Force by 2019.

Action 2

Coordinate with local governments and tribes and increase transboundary coordination with Canada.

Implementation Details

The Governor should direct the Washington Department of Ecology and request that the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources work with the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance to determine how projects that may increase vessel traffic and its impacts (oil spills, noise, ship strikes) on Southern Residents could be required to explicitly address those impacts and treat underwater noise as a “primary constituent element” of critical habitat. This work must coordinate with local governments, tribes, and others to identify authorities to issue permits, authorizations, or mitigation measures for projects, and must increase transboundary coordination to address projects initiating in Canada (such as Roberts Bank Terminal 2). The agencies should report to the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force by April 2019.

Potential avenues for adding these requirements include the following:

  • Updating the State Environmental Protection Act checklist.
  • Updating the Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application form.
  • Updating the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permit to Construct specifically to include potential vessel traffic impacts to Southern Residents.
  • Updating state regulations and Ecology’s Shoreline Master Program Handbook to address vessel traffic impacts and require Southern Resident expertise for all state application submittals.

Recent Progress

The Department of Ecology invited the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force Vessel Working Group, State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) practitioners, and tribes to participate in a series of workshops to create an orca checklist for SEPA. The checklist is available for use in the SEPA process and is on the Ecology website under SEPA document templates. Ecology developed SEPA Orca checklist guidance for use with the checklist. The supplemental checklist and guidance include vessel traffic questions to better understand project impacts to Southern Residents.

The Puget Sound Partnership and the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office worked with partners to create the Mitigation Opportunities list, which is a list of opportunities and best practices to address potential project impacts to Southern Residents related to vessels.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.