How a Checklist Helps Protect the Environment

What do parklets, streateries, and shoreline street ends have to do with the environment?

A lot, actually – often more than contractors, businesses, and even SDOT may think when proposing a project. For projects that impact the public right of way, one of the main tools that we use to examine potential environmental impacts is the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist.

What’s on this checklist?

SEPA was created in 1971. At the time, people were frustrated that many government decisions didn’t seem to consider impacts on the environment or the people living and working nearby. SEPA provided the framework government needed, and the accountability that the public wanted.

The checklist is a list of mandatory questions that applicants must answer about the proposed development project. These help expose any potential disturbance the site may undergo, shine light on the local conditions, and more.

The checklist includes questions about local soil, potential air emissions, and impacts to local plant and animal life. SEPA even asks applicants if their proposed use of the site will limit opportunities, like solar installations, for neighboring landowners in the future. Depending on the results, projects may have to go through further SEPA steps, like making plans to mitigate negative impacts, to get approval.

What kinds of things does the SEPA questionnaire reveal?

Parklets and Streateries

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Parklets and streateries convert a on-street parking spots into public spots with plantings, benches, and tables. Although these only alter a few slabs of pavement, there can be hidden impacts, so filling out a SEPA Environmental Checklist is a must. During the 2016 Parklet/Streatery SEPA assessment, we found that:

  • During construction of parklets and streateries, vehicle emissions might rise due to the increased traffic and car idling, but that this increase would fall back to pre-construction levels when the project is finished.
  • Noise levels may increase during the construction period, but will drop upon completion.
  • Although Seattle is within the Pacific Flyway, a principal route for many migratory birds, the new parklets and streateries will not effect this migration.
  • Vegetation planted in planter boxes will add vegetation to the right of way, and no parklet or streatery location requires the removal of any vegetation.
  • One streatery design was located in a Landmark District, and required further approval.

Shoreline Street Ends

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Shoreline Street Ends are portions of the public right of way where streets end in areas that provide access to Seattle’s waterways. These street ends are peppered throughout the shoreline of city.

Many of these are slated for improvements that help with access, yet this type of disturbance and construction requires a SEPA assessment. During one recent assessment, we found that:

  • Areas on the site that are disturbed may be susceptible to erosion, so we need to be careful to protect the soil from washing into the waterway.
  • The improved Shoreline Street End will remove approximately 1,200 square feet of invasive species from the site, including Japanese knotweed and Himalayan blackberry.
  • Native plants, including red twig dogwood, red-flowering current and shore pine are all included in the proposed landscaping to help increase native plant density in this area of Seattle
  • Soil excavated from the site had levels of toxicity that require special handling and hazardous material disposal.

Without the SEPA checklist, many of these environmental considerations may not have been recognized. SEPA assessments help the right of way stay safe for all members of the public – including our plant and animal neighbors.