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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Application Process Critical Areas Logo


Natural Resource Assessment

It is important to understand the natural resource requirements of your property at the earliest possible stage of the building process. Our Natural Resource Assessment Process aims to provide that information with as much detail and accuracy so that future building permits may be issued as quickly as possible.  This will determine what reviews are necessary regarding:

  • Critical Areas,
  • Watershed Regulations, and
  • Flood Regulations.

The Natural Resource (NR) Assessment process works like this:

  1. The applicant contacts County NR staff by phone (360-676-6907), email, or in person.
  2. County NR staff provides a brief review based on the information at hand. At this time, NR staff will determine which NR reviews need to occur. If no NR reviews are required, the NR Assessment may be waived by staff.
  3. Return this Submittal Checklist and a conceptual development site plan to Whatcom County. NR Staff will take in these documents and determine if  staff needs to perform a site inspection to verify critical areas on site.
  4. NR Staff may perform a site inspection.
  5. NR Staff will then compile a document which outlines all NR requirements of building permit submittal or any issues that may affect future development. If there aren’t any issues or requirements, a NR approval document will be created for submittal with the building permit. **If there is information or documentation required prior to building permit submittal, you may submit that information prior to submittal of the building permit. This will allow staff to review and possibly provide a NR approval document, which would lead to minimal NR review of the building permit and potential building permit issuance over the counter.
  6. Submittal of a building permit with NR approval or NR requirement document and all documents/studies that are required.

*NOTE:   If a proposal is within shoreline jurisdiction you will need to contact a shoreline administrator to obtain the necessary shoreline approval(s). Whatcom County Planning & Development Services will not accept a building permit application without a copy of a shoreline decision for the proposal.


Other Critical Area Information

Development activities proposed within a critical area or critical area buffer are reviewed for:

  • Consistency with the purpose and standards of the CAO
  • Identification and implementation of protective or mitigating measures that are adequate enough to protect critical area function, as well as protect the public health, safety and welfare.

The County will use the following procedure for critical areas review upon submittal of a project or land use application:

Click here for the Administrative Provisions code language, including exempt activities and those allowed with notification.
  • The technical administrator will determine if the project is located within a critical area or its potential buffer area.
  • If the proposed activity is located within a critical area or its buffer, the technical administrator will confirm the presence or absence through site inspection or other appropriate means.
  • A Critical Areas Assessment Report is required when any part of the project may impact a regulated critical area, and/or its buffer.
  • A critical areas specialist (i.e., qualified consultant) shall prepare the report. A consultant list can be found here. (Compilation of this list in no way constitutes an endorsement of the individuals identified herein; rather, this serves only as a list of those persons having provided documentation of the required educational training and cumulative experience consistent with the definition of a qualified specialist in Article 8 of Title 16.16 of the Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance.)
  • The recommendation and conclusions of the approved report will be used to assist the administrator in making a final decision concerning critical areas jurisdiction and appropriate mitigation measures.

Not all activities in Critical Areas or their buffers require a full review.  Click here for an application for “activities allowed with notification.”  Notifications will be approved, conditioned, or denied within 10 business days.  Applicants should contact the county to discuss the project proposal prior to filling out applications.  Click here for information on CPAL farm plans.

Cost – See the Planning and Development Services section of the Unified Fee Schedule for application and review fees.