Ecology proposes 2-year freeze on water quality permit fees

-Press Release-

OLYMPIA – Given the unprecedented changes to the state and economy during the pandemic, the Department of Ecology proposes to maintain water quality permit fees at their current rate for the next two years. In addition, Ecology proposes to update the Vessel Deconstruction Permit fee to provide more options and create a new fee category for the Puget Sound Nutrient General Permit, currently in development.

“The 6,800 local governments and businesses that hold water quality permits have suffered economic hardships this past year, so it makes sense to put permit increases on hold,” said Vince McGowan, water quality program manager for Ecology. “Our team is committed to continuing to provide technical assistance to permittees and protect state waters as our state economy recovers.”

Fees can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on the type of activity the permit covers. It is common for fees to increase to reflect inflation in permit administration costs, and updates are made every two years.

Graduated fees for derelict vessels

A sliding scale for water quality permitting fees is proposed for the Vessel Deconstruction General Permit. This permit protects state waters from pollution during the dismantling of any portion of a vessel that is over water, on a dry-dock, or on a barge. The new fee structure reflects what Ecology has learned in administering the permit and in working with the Department of Natural Resource’s Derelict Vessel Program. Instead of the current single permit fee, Ecology proposes establishing a base fee, with additional fees for more complex deconstruction jobs. This will better reflect the level of staff effort in managing the permit and reduce costs for less complicated deconstructions. With these changes, Ecology hopes to reduce any financial barrier that could prevent the safe removal of a vessel posing a risk to public safety and clean water.

New permit to protect Puget Sound

Anytime a new general permit is established, the program must create a fee category. Ecology is in the process of establishing the Puget Sound Nutrient General Permit for domestic wastewater treatment plants. As such, the agency is proposing to add a new fee category to reflect what the permit would cost to implement. Last updated in 2009, the Legislature set limits on how much municipalities can be charged for domestic wastewater permit fees. Because all facilities are already at the maximum amount, Ecology cannot charge a fee for this permit. However, the category will exist if future legislation is passed to allow such fees.

In addition to the changes above, Ecology is proposing minor technical changes that are meant to provide clarity in the rule and improve organization.

How to comment

Ecology is accepting comment on all proposed fee changes until May 4, 2021. Proposed rule language and information on how to comment is available on the rulemaking webpage. The public is invited to participate in a virtual public hearing on April 27, 2021 at 10 a.m.