SB 5204: An Exemption from Hydraulic Project Permit Fees for Certain Emergencies

It was a nice day to visit the state’s capitol and its campus. I was particularly interested in hearing the bill 5204 which was under the Agriculture & Natural Resources section because it dealt directly with the permitting process and how important it was to approve the construction of a project in time in case of emergency. The public hearing for the bill took place in one of the 13:30 sessions in which I attended.

The background of the bill was that a hydraulic project approval (HPA) must be acquired before implementing any construction that will “use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of any of the salt or fresh waters of the state” in order to protect the fish life. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is the agency to issue such permit. There are certain cases where permit application fees ($150) have been exempt. The main objective of the bill: the bill advocated for adding/reinforcing another fee exemption regarding emergency permits—applying to the hydraulic projects that have to quickly respond to the incidents as a result of a fire, earthquake, storm, flood, or other natural disasters for which a state of emergency has been declared. Verbal approval from WDFW is sufficient and reduced to writing within 30 days.

The experience of attending the live public hearing was invaluable. I was surprised that the bills presented went by quicker than I expected; the verbal contents people testifying on their bills were succinct and everybody seemed to have to run to their other daily businesses right after. I got a chance to hear from one of the prime sponsors for the bill—Senator Linda Parlette. The importance of the bill came to her attention and she favors it as she brought up a concern by a fish and wildlife person who witnessed an emergency incident and believed that the people “should have some relief”.

I also visited the capitol building and expressed that I was also supporting this bill because it was crucial for people to take action immediately after the emergency to avoid further devastation. Fee exemption and permit application procedure should be the thing that they would least worry about.

What I would propose in the draft language is that it would be necessary for people to produce a detailed report to WDFW on what steps they have taken to alleviate the situation potentially impacting the water stream, or if they have altered any natural structure or ecological function. It would also require WDFW to respond quickly in terms of assessing the impacts whether the hydraulic project has posed any major/minor environmental threat. Since it is necessary for the people to act fast after an incident, ad hoc solutions may work well at that very moment and may continue to last for a certain period of time. It is still necessary for WDFW, after thorough considerations, to officially approve/modify the construction, so that it is a more permanent and effective solution.

This bill is a great case study that underscores what we learned in class—streamlining and consolidating permitting processes to reduce development and construction costs. The bill not only expressed the financial concern—tax/fee imposed on the people, but also alluded to the place attachment, the significance of environmental preservation and the economic activities of the locals who would have to do something to restore their normal functioning status after any emergency situation rather than worry about the bureaucratic processes. Along with the fee exemption, careful prioritization is also a key to resolving problems.

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