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WSDOT ESA Consultation Process

Additional information on the following WSDOT consultation process steps is also available on the BA Content page: Project Development and Team Assignment, Information Gathering, and Project Impact Analysis.

Pre-Biological Assessment Meeting

As part of an effort to manage or expedite the consultation process, WSDOT established a monthly meeting with the Services (NOAA Fisheries and USFWS) where projects can be presented and discussed. These meetings are held in Olympia, and attended by representatives from USFWS, NOAA Fisheries, WSDOT and FHWA. For any given project, both project design staff and environmental staff, including the project biologist, should be present. At these meetings, project designs and impact analysis are presented and methods to reduce impacts to listed species are discussed with the Services, prior to submittal of the project BA to the Services. Large complicated projects may be presented at more than one meeting. Meetings are now offered through video and computer teleconferencing to accommodate budget and travel restrictions.  The Pre-BA Meeting process is outlined in the WSDOT Pre-BA Meeting Guidance (pdf 25 kb).

Write Biological Assessment and Internal Review

The project biologist documents their analysis and conclusions in one of the following documents: No Effect Letter, Biological Assessment/Biological Evaluation or Programmatic Biological Assessment Form (WSDOT internal use only). For information on No Effect Letters and Biological Assessments, see the WSDOT Biological Assessment Preparation for Transportation Projects: Advanced Training Manual.

Before finishing the draft ESA document, the project biologist should coordinate with the project team, to verify appropriate MMs and BMPs have been included in the document. Prior to submitting the document to WSDOT environmental staff for review, the completed draft document should undergo a rigorous internal review to ensure that the document meets WSDOT standards. Once this internal review has been completed, and appropriate revisions have been made, the revised document should be provided to WSDOT for review.

Review of Quality Standards

Prior to submitting BAs to the Services (NOAA Fisheries and USFWS) for formal or informal consultation, WSDOT completes an internal sufficiency review of BAs that have been prepared by consultant biologists to ensure that the BAs meet WSDOT and FHWA standards. Completed BAs will be submitted by consultants (Senior authors) to the appropriate WSDOT regional staff for review. WSDOT reviewers use the BA review checklists to determine whether the documents are complete and compliant with WSDOT policies and guidance.

If a document is considered complete, it is forwarded to the Services for consultation. If necessary, the BA will be sent back for correction. BAs can be returned for two reasons: 1) for changes in project description or setting or timing etc, and 2) for deficiencies in meeting WSDOT quality standards and policies, such as incorrectly identifying the action area, incorrectly calculating the zone of noise influence, or for an overall inconsistent BA.

Federal Agency Coordination and Consultation

To ensure compliance under Section 7 of the ESA, formal or informal consultation with the Services may be initiated by a federal action agency or by a non-federal designee (for informal consultation only). The level of impact a project is expected to have on listed species or designated habitats, and therefore the type of effect determination that is anticipated, determines the level of consultation necessary (see the table below). For more information on the four types of effect determinations, refer to the WSDOT Biological Assessment Preparation for Transportation Projects: Advanced Training Manual.

Type of effect and level of consultation

Type of Effect Abbreviation Level of Consultation
No effect NE Not needed or informal
May affect, not likely to adversely affect NLTAA Informal
May affect, likely to adversely affect LTAA Formal
May have a beneficial effect   None Informal or formal

Once BAs have been submitted to the Services, the documents are reviewed to determine if clarification of information is necessary to complete consultation. This initial review is completed as soon as possible, but less than 30 days after receipt of the biological assessment and request for consultation. For formal consultations, during this initial review, the Services will also determine whether they agree with the effect determination provided by the action agency.

If additional information or clarification is necessary, coordination between the involved agencies will occur. This may entail meetings, field reviews, or posing and responding to questions in person, via letter, or email. If additional information is requested, WSDOT attempts to return the additional information to the Services within two weeks of receiving the request. Project biologists may be tasked with providing this additional information and should be aware of this two-week timeframe. Responses to information requests for informal consultations will be completed by or coordinated with project biologists by the WSDOT project manager or the WSDOT regional, modal (Washington State Ferries, or WSDOT Rail Office), or Highways and Local Programs biologist. Information requests for formal consultations will be completed by or coordinated with the project biologist by the FHWA Area Engineer and/or Program Delivery Team Leader.

The Services will provide WSDOT and FHWA project staff with their draft incidental take statements, terms and conditions, and reasonable and prudent measures for review. FHWA and WSDOT will prepare a collective response to these draft documents and analysis within two weeks of receiving them from the Services (or within a mutually agreed upon timeframe). Once these conditions have been mutually agreed upon and any disputes resolved, the Services' consultation documentation can be completed.

For informal consultation, a letter of concurrence or a letter of non-concurrence is issued to conclude consultation. For formal consultation, issuance of a biological opinion concludes consultation.

BA Submittal Procedures

Please see Part 3, Chapter 19 of the Advanced Training Manual: Biological Assessment Preparation for Transportation Projects for complete information on submitting a BA or no-effect letter.

Project Implementation Phase

During project implementation, any impact minimization measures included in the BA must be followed.

In some cases, during the time period between receiving concurrence from the Services and completion of the project, a change in conditions may require reanalysis and may result in stopping construction. For example, there may be a change in the status of a species or critical habitat, resulting in a higher level of protection (e.g., a species undergoes an emergency listing). Or there may be a change in scope or design of the proposed project after construction has begun. Changes of this nature may require construction to be stopped while potential project impacts are reassessed and the consultation process is reinitiated.

Reinitiation of Consultation Guidance