Written by Mark Daniel, AICP
Project proponents are typically very interested in the answer to this question, as it is an important determinant of a project’s overall schedule. Below, I offer general guidance in respect to projects proposed in or near areas with environmental features such as shorelines, streams, or wetlands within Washington State.
Generally speaking, project permitting can involve multiple regulatory agencies. However, the project review timelines of the local government with jurisdiction and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) tend to drive a project’s overall permitting timeline. (Other regulatory agencies can affect a project’s overall permitting timeline in some cases, but this is less common and therefore not discussed here.) Project review by the local government with jurisdiction is usually required, while project review by the Corps may or may not be required.
Local Government Project Review Timeline
The project review processes of local governments in Washington vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, the project review processes of many local governments across the state, including local governments in more rapidly growing areas, must adhere to project review timelines set forth in state law.
One provision of state law stipulates that a local government must notify an applicant within 28 days whether or not his or her application is complete. Another provision stipulates that a local government should not ordinarily take longer than 120 days to make a decision on a permit once a complete application is received.
In other words, a local government typically has about 5 months to review and make a decision on an application. However, consistent with state law, the local government project review process may take longer under certain circumstances, such as when a local jurisdiction deems an application incomplete or makes written findings that additional time is needed.
At The Watershed Company, we generally recommend that project proponents plan for the local government project review process to take from 4 to 9 months.
Corps Project Review Timeline
Applications for Corps permits for activities proposed to occur within Washington are processed by the Seattle District. According to the Seattle District, a permit from the Corps is required “for certain activities in, over, under or near waters of the US or special aquatic sites, including wetlands.”
The Seattle District states that it is their goal to process permit applications within 2 to 4 months. However, the Seattle District also states that permit applications may have a “much longer review time” for reasons including the following:
- Incomplete applications
- Changes to the proposed project
- Endangered species
- Cultural/Historic properties
- Water quality certification
- Tribal trust responsibilities
- Substantial public opposition
- Court decisions that alter case law
Indeed, the Seattle District indicates that the time required to issue permits for more complex projects ranges from 6 to 12 months, or longer.
At The Watershed Company, we generally recommend that project proponents plan for the Corps project review process to take from 3 to 9 months for less complex projects, and up to a year for more complex projects.
The project review timelines of the local government with jurisdiction and the Corps tend to drive a project’s overall permitting timeline. At The Watershed Company, we generally recommend that project proponents plan for the local government project review process to take from 4 to 9 months, and, if applicable, for the Corps project review process to take from 3 to 9 months for less complex projects, and up to a year for more complex projects.
On a related note, as part of the project review process for projects in or near water, regulatory agencies often impose timing restrictions on project construction. These timing restrictions vary depending upon project location. Such timing limitations should be considered when contemplating a project’s overall schedule.
 RCW 36.70B.070(1).
 RCW 36.70B.080(1).