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Recommendation: 27

Status: Pending

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 Vessels Working Group developed a clearer statement of the two problems this recommendation sought to address. Next steps are the following:

  1. Develop technical resources for coastal planners and environmental staff to identify and suggest mitigation options for potential impacts of increased vessels.
  2. Update the State Environmental Protection Act checklist guidance or supplementary materials to include a vessel traffic question and require that potential impacts to Southern Residents be addressed.

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