Chapter 16.35


16.35.010    Title.

16.35.020    Purpose.

16.35.030    Authority and administration.

16.35.040    Applicability.

16.35.050    Exemptions.

16.35.060    Application requirements.

16.35.070    Grading plan.

16.35.080    Grading standards.

16.35.090    Grading inspection.

16.35.100    Appeals.

16.35.110    Violations – Penalties.

16.35.120    Fees.

16.35.130    Definitions.

16.35.140    Severability.

16.35.150    Liability for damages.

16.35.160    Conflict with other regulations.

16.35.010 Title.

This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the Cowlitz County Grading Ordinance. [Ord. 04-135, § 1, 6-22-04.]

16.35.020 Purpose.

This chapter is intended to provide uniform procedures authorizing and regulating excavation, grading and earthwork activities within the unincorporated area of Cowlitz County. While not intended to duplicate other regulations, these regulations are designed to aid in controlling erosion incident to grading activity, and to protect public health, safety and welfare through the adoption and enforcement of provisions designed to:

A. Minimize adverse impacts associated with the excavation and grading of land;

B. Protect water quality from the adverse impacts associated with erosion and sedimentation;

C. Ensure prompt development, restoration, replanting, and effective erosion and sedimentation control of property during and after grading activities;

D. Establish administrative procedures for the issuance of permits, approval of plans, and inspection of grading operations; and

E. Allow for the reasonable development of land in Cowlitz County. [Ord. 04-135, § 2, 6-22-04.]

16.35.030 Authority and administration.

The Director of Building and Planning shall administer, interpret, and enforce this chapter. The Director shall have the authority to issue permits and to perform, or cause to be performed, inspections and take such actions as may be required to enforce the provisions of this chapter. [Ord. 04-135, § 3, 6-22-04.]

16.35.040 Applicability.

Unless exempted under CCC 16.35.050, no person shall perform any grading activity without having first obtained a permit from the Department. Exemption from the permit process shall not relieve any person the requirement for installation of appropriate erosion control measures for their project. No permit or exemption granted pursuant to this chapter shall remove applicant’s obligation to comply in all respects with the applicable provisions of any other federal, state, or local law or regulation. [Ord. 04-135, § 4, 6-22-04.]

16.35.050 Exemptions.

The following activities are exempt from the permit requirements of this chapter. Materials from exempted excavations may require a separate permit for placement as fill.

A. Installation or maintenance of landscaped areas on private or public property that does not require fills in excess of one foot in depth or cuts in excess of two feet in depth.

B. Existing and ongoing agricultural or horticultural activities as defined in this chapter.

C. Excavation of cemetery graves.

D. Maintenance of existing private driveways, private access roads within their existing rights-of-way or easements, or private roadways in active commercial forest production areas.

E. Reserved.

F. Any work conducted exclusively within a public right-of-way or public access easement and in compliance with other local, state and federal regulations.

G. The temporary stockpiling of materials for public road maintenance and construction projects.

H. Excavations for a well, soils testing, tunnels, directional boring, or utilities.

I. Operation and maintenance of facilities within an existing right-of-way for a common rail carrier or general pipeline engaged in interstate/intrastate commerce.

J. Fish enhancement projects that are sponsored or endorsed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, or other state or federally recognized agencies.

K. Mining, quarrying, excavating, processing, or stockpiling activities of rock, sand, gravel, or clay if such operations are authorized by a valid Department of Natural Resources Surface Mine Reclamation Permit or Cowlitz County Special Use Permit or other provision of the Cowlitz County Code.

L. All State Department of Natural Resources regulated Class I, II, III, or IV special forest practice activity conducted in accordance with Chapter 76.09 RCW and WAC Title 222.

M. Operation and maintenance of an existing, licensed solid waste disposal facility.

N. Any project where all grading activities are regulated by a valid local, state or federal permit.

O. When not exempt under other provisions of this chapter, and approved by the Director, grading not in excess of 500 cubic yards, which is located in an isolated self-contained area, if there is no danger to public or private property. This exemption shall not be granted for work in a critical area (Chapter 19.15 CCC), or within a regulated Washington State Shoreline (Chapter 90.58 RCW).

P. An excavation below finished grade for basements and footings of a building, retaining wall or other structure authorized by a valid building permit. This shall not exempt any fill made with the material from such excavation or exempt any excavation having an unsupported height greater than five feet after the completion of such structure.

Q. An excavation which (1) is less than two feet in depth, or (2) creates a cut slope not greater than five feet in height and not steeper than one unit vertical in one and one-half units horizontal (66.7 percent slope).

R. A fill less than one foot in depth and placed on natural terrain with a slope flatter than one unit vertical in five units horizontal (20 percent slope), or less than three feet in depth, not intended to support structures, that does not exceed 50 cubic yards on one lot and does not obstruct a drainage course.

S. Emergency actions which must be undertaken immediately or for which there is insufficient time for full compliance with this chapter when it is necessary to:

1. Prevent an imminent threat to public health or safety;

2. Prevent imminent danger to public or private property;

3. Prevent an imminent threat of serious environmental degradation;

4. In the event a person or emergency agency determines that the need to take emergency action is so urgent that there is insufficient time for review by the Department, such emergency action may be taken immediately.

Any person or agency undertaking such action shall notify the Department within one working day following the commencement of the emergency activity. Following such notification the Department shall determine if the action taken was within the scope of the emergency actions allowed in this subsection. If the Department determines that the action taken or part of the action taken is beyond the scope of allowed emergency action, enforcement action is authorized, as outlined in CCC 16.35.110. [Ord. 18-102 § 2(vi), 11-6-18; Ord. 04-135, § 5, 6-22-04.]

16.35.060 Application requirements.

Unless exempted under CCC 16.35.050, all persons proposing to conduct grading activity within the jurisdictional boundaries of Cowlitz County shall first apply for a grading permit. The applicant shall obtain a grading permit in conformance with this chapter prior to any grading activity.

A. The permit application shall at a minimum include the following:

1. A completed master application, signed by the applicant, a vicinity map, environmental checklist, and any relevant supplemental information required by the Director.

2. A site plan drawn to a reasonable scale (e.g., one inch equals 20 feet). The site plan should clearly show the following:

a. North arrow.

b. Property lines and dimensions.

c. Location and dimensions of all existing and proposed development, including structures, roads, sewer and water lines, wells, utilities, easements, water bodies, drainage facilities, and on-site sewage disposal and drainfield areas, within the permit area boundary.

3. Grading plans when required in CCC 16.35.070.

4. A full identification and description of the work to be covered by the permit for which the application is made.

5. A timeline for completion of the project.

B. Granting of Permits.

1. After an application has been filed and reviewed, the Director shall ascertain whether such proposed grading work complies with the provisions of this chapter. If the application and plans so comply, or if they are corrected or amended so as to comply, and the proposal is consistent with all other relevant county codes, the Director shall issue a grading permit.

2. The applicant/property owner shall maintain the approved grading plans and permit available on the site, and provide an individual copy to any grading contractor who will be working at the site.

3. A grading permit shall be valid for a period of two years from the date of permit issuance. An extension may be granted for an additional 12 months for special circumstances. Request for extension shall be submitted in writing to the Department prior to expiration of the current permit, setting forth the reasons and justification for the request. No permit may be extended more than once. Renewal of permits may be accomplished with existing plans and reports, if no changes are being made to the proposal, and no new significant issues are raised during the review. [Ord. 04-135, § 6, 6-22-04.]

16.35.070 Grading plan.

An application for grading in excess of 100 cubic yards or in a critical area shall be accompanied by a grading plan. Applications for projects involving engineered grading, as defined in CCC 16.35.130, shall be accompanied by an engineered grading plan based on an engineering report or an engineering geology report. Engineered grading plans shall be prepared and stamped by an engineering geologist, geotechnical engineer and/or civil engineer licensed to work in the State of Washington. Grading within a geological hazard critical area may require a geotechnical assessment in compliance with the Critical Areas Protection Ordinance (Chapter 19.15 CCC). Materials excavated for building foundations and basements need not be considered in the above quantities, if that material is transported off site to a permitted or other approved location.

A grading plan, or an engineered grading plan, shall include:

A. An easily reproducible scale of appropriate size to show location and details of all cuts and all fills including depth and finished slopes of all cuts and all fills.

B. A general vicinity map of the area.

C. North arrow.

D. Subject property boundary lines, existing and proposed roads or driveways, easements, natural or manmade bodies of water and drainages, critical areas, shorelines and any existing or proposed structures, wells or septic systems on the site, and the distance between such features.

E. Bodies of water, critical areas, structures, wells and septic systems on adjacent property and lying within 50 feet of the subject grading activity boundary that could be affected by the proposed grading operations.

F. Maps drawn with contour intervals that adequately depict existing and proposed slopes for the proposal.

G. Total quantities, in cubic yards, and type of cut and fill material, including on-site grading material, and imported material.

H. Cross section drawings that include:

1. Maximum depth of fill and maximum height of cuts.

2. Existing and proposed buildings and their setbacks from cut or fill slopes.

3. Existing grades extending a minimum of 20 feet beyond the scope of work.

4. Finished grades of cuts and fills extending a minimum of 20 feet beyond the scope of work.

5. Retaining walls and the adjacent grade at least 20 feet on either side of the wall(s).

6. Grades of all existing cut and fill areas expressed as a ratio of horizontal to vertical slope.

I. The disposal site for excavated material. Off-site disposal may require a separate grading permit.

J. The location of proposed erosion and sedimentation control measures showing compliance with the requirements of CCC 16.35.080.

K. Detailed plans of all surface and subsurface drainage devices, walls, cribbing, dams, berms, settling ponds, or other water or erosion control devices to be utilized as a part of the proposed work.

L. Any recommendations included in an engineering geology or geotechnical assessment or report for grading or developing the property. If required, assessment and reports shall be completed in compliance with Chapter 19.15 CCC, the Cowlitz County Critical Areas Protection Ordinance. [Ord. 04-135, § 7, 6-22-04.]

16.35.080 Grading standards.

Unless otherwise recommended in the approved soils engineering or engineering geology report, grading shall conform to the following standards. Erosion control measures may be installed as outlined in Appendix A attached to the ordinance codified in this chapter, unless otherwise recommended by a project engineer.

A. Appropriate erosion control structures shall be installed prior to any grading activity. All erosion control measures shall be maintained in place until vegetation is established for suitable erosion and sedimentation control. No sediment from grading operations shall be permitted to leave the site or enter any surface waters or wetlands.

B. Sites shall have a finished grade that drains away from structural foundations for a minimum of 10 feet.

C. All sites shall be cleaned upon project completion, including installation of permanent organic erosion control measures such as grass seeding, landscaping, or other organic means of erosion control.

D. Cuts or fills of five feet in depth or greater shall be set back from property lines by a minimum of 25 feet. This can be decreased with appropriate engineering. Setback dimensions shall be horizontal distances measured perpendicular to the site boundary.

E. The top of cut slopes shall not be made nearer to a permit area boundary line than one fifth of the vertical height of cut with a minimum of two feet and a maximum of 10 feet. The setback needs to be increased for any required interceptor drains.

F. The toe of fill slopes shall be made not nearer to the permit area boundary line than one-half the height of the slope with a minimum of two feet and a maximum of 20 feet.

G. The Director may approve alternate setbacks at the request of the applicant. In approving these alternate setbacks, the Director may require an investigation and recommendation by a qualified engineer or engineering geologist to demonstrate that the intent of this section has been satisfied.

H. Any proposed finished slope that is steeper than two horizontal to one vertical shall be engineered.

I. The ground surface shall be prepared to receive fill by removing all organic material, non-complying fill, and scarifying topsoil.

J. Solid waste as defined in Chapter 15.30 CCC, Solid Waste Management, and detrimental amounts of organic material shall not be used as fill material.

K. Fill slopes shall not be constructed on natural or cut slopes steeper than two units horizontal in one unit vertical (50 percent slope) unless engineered. The ground surface shall be prepared to receive fill by scarifying to provide a bond with the new fill and, where slopes are steeper than five units horizontal in one unit vertical (20 percent slope) and the height is greater than five feet, by benching into sound bedrock or other competent material as determined by the engineer.

L. All fills shall be compacted to a minimum of 90 percent of maximum density, unless approved as a waste site by the Director.

M. The slope of cut or fill surfaces shall be no steeper than two units horizontal in one unit vertical (50 percent slope) unless the permittee furnishes a geotechnical engineering or an engineering geology report or both, stating that the site has been investigated and giving an opinion that a cut at a steeper slope will be stable and not create a hazard to public or private property.

At the request of the applicant, the Director may approve the use of alternate grading standards. These approvals shall be based on sound engineering practices and may require the submittal of additional documentation, reports, or testing. [Ord. 04-135, § 8, 6-22-04.]

16.35.090 Grading inspection.

Grading projects for which a permit is required shall be subject to inspection by the Director. A licensed engineer shall provide professional inspections of grading operations if engineering is required elsewhere in this chapter. An inspection schedule shall be established for each project prior to permit issuance based on the following:

A. A civil engineer shall provide professional inspections within such engineer’s area of technical specialty, which shall consist of observation and review as to the establishment of line, grade and surface drainage of the development area. If revised plans are required during the course of the work, they shall be prepared by the civil engineer.

B. A geotechnical engineer and/or engineering geologist shall provide professional inspection within such engineer’s area of technical specialty, which shall include observation during grading and testing for required compaction. The engineer shall provide sufficient observation during the preparation of the natural ground and placement and compaction of the fill to verify that such work is being performed in accordance with the conditions of the approved plan and the appropriate requirements of this chapter. He or she shall also provide professional inspection of any excavation to determine if conditions encountered are in conformance with the approved report or plan. Revised recommendations relating to conditions differing from the approved engineering geology or geotechnical reports shall be submitted to the permittee, the Department, and the civil engineer.

C. The permittee shall be responsible for the work being performed in accordance with the approved plans and specifications and in conformance with the provisions of this chapter. When approved by the Director, the permittee may engage consultants, if required, to provide professional inspections on a timely basis. The permittee shall act as a coordinator between the consultants, the contractor and the Department. In the event of changing conditions, the permittee shall be responsible for informing the Department of such change and shall provide revised plans for approval.

D. The Department may inspect the project in various stages of work.

E. If, in the course of fulfilling their respective duties under this chapter, the civil engineer, geotechnical engineer, or engineering geologist finds that the work is not being done in conformance with this chapter or the approved grading plans, the discrepancies shall be reported in writing within three working days to the permittee and to the Department.

F. If the civil engineer, geotechnical engineer, or engineering geologist of record is changed during grading, the work shall be stopped until the replacement has agreed in writing to accept the responsibility within the area of technical competence for approval upon completion of the work. It shall be the duty of the permittee to notify the Department in writing of such change prior to the recommencement of such grading. [Ord. 04-135, § 9, 6-22-04.]

16.35.100 Appeals.

Any interpretation or decision made by the Director in the administration of this chapter is final and conclusive unless appealed to the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner as authorized by Chapter 18.10 CCC.

A. The subject property owner, if aggrieved by a decision of the Director may, within 30 days following the date of the Department’s written decision, submit an appeal of that decision. The burden of proof in any appeal is the responsibility of the appellant. Any appeal shall be in written form and filed with the Department together with the fee as established by resolution of the Board of County Commissioners. Any appeal shall as a minimum contain the following information:

1. An explanation and description of how the appellant is aggrieved.

2. A statement describing why the appellant believes the decision of the Director is in error and the specific relief sought.

3. A statement showing why upholding an appeal will not be detrimental to public health, safety or welfare, or significantly negate the purposes of this chapter.

4. A statement describing any mitigating measures the appellant proposes to assure that the proposed actions will not irrevocably jeopardize adjacent properties or water bodies in the event the appeal is successful.

B. Notice of the time, date and place of the hearing before the Hearing Examiner shall be sent to the appellant and the permittee by first class mail prior to the public hearing. Legal notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation and the subject property shall be posted with said notice not less than 10 days prior to the public hearing.

C. The Director shall transmit the application and appeal information to the Hearing Examiner at least 10 days prior to the public hearing. The Director may provide additional information if the appeal contains material or facts not available prior to the Director’s decision.

D. Within 10 days after the public hearing, the Hearing Examiner shall issue a written decision, including findings of fact on which the decision is based. The Hearing Examiner shall determine if the appeal should be upheld, upheld with conditions, or denied. Such written decision shall be available to the appellant and the public upon request.

E. Any person aggrieved by the decision of the Hearing Examiner may request relief from the Superior Court of Cowlitz County pursuant to state law. [Ord. 04-135, § 10, 6-22-04.]

16.35.110 Violations – Penalties.

Whenever any work is being done contrary to the provisions of this chapter, the Director may order the work stopped by notice in writing served on any persons engaged in the doing or causing such work to be done, and any such persons shall forthwith stop such work until authorized by the Director to proceed with the work. It is a civil infraction for any person to violate the provisions of this chapter or assist in the violation of this chapter. Violations of this chapter are subject to the provisions of Chapter 2.06 CCC. Any violation is a public nuisance. Each day a violation continues is a separate infraction. Payment of any fine imposed for a violation does not relieve a person from the duty to comply with this chapter.

Whenever grading activity for which a permit is required by this chapter has been commenced without first obtaining said permit, an investigation fee may be imposed in addition to the permit fee. The investigation fee shall be equal to the amount of and in addition to the permit fee. The payment of an investigation fee shall not exempt any person from compliance with all other provisions of this chapter nor from any penalty prescribed by law. [Ord. 04-135, § 11, 6-22-04.]

16.35.120 Fees.

Fees for administering the provisions of this chapter shall be as set from time to time by the Board of County Commissioners. [Ord. 04-135, § 12, 6-22-04.]

16.35.130 Definitions.

For the purpose of this chapter, the following definitions shall apply:

“Agricultural activities” means those activities conducted on lands defined in RCW 84.34.020(2) as agricultural lands and those activities involved in the production of crops or livestock, including but not limited to operation and maintenance of existing fields, farm and stock ponds or drainage systems, irrigation systems, changes between agricultural activities, and maintenance or repair of existing serviceable structures and facilities. Activities that would significantly impact a previously undisturbed area are not part of an ongoing activity. An activity ceases to be ongoing when the area on which it was conducted has been converted to a nonagricultural use.

“Applicant” means a property owner or any person or entity authorized or named in writing by the property owner to be the applicant, in an application for a development proposal permit.

“Approval” means that the proposed work or completed work conforms to this chapter in the opinion of the Director of Building and Planning.

“Bench” means a cut into a deep soil or rock face to provide stability or control surface drainage.

“Berm” means a mound or raised area usually used for the purpose of screening a site or operation, or for containing or directing runoff.

“Best management practices (BMPs)” means physical, structural, or managerial practices that have gained general acceptance by the scientific community, and that minimize adverse environmental impacts.

“Civil engineer” means a professional engineer registered in the State of Washington to practice in civil works.

“Compaction” means the densification of a fill by mechanical means or approved by an engineering geologist or civil engineer.

“Critical areas” as used in this chapter means fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, wetlands, flood hazard areas, geologically hazardous areas, and their buffers, as defined in Chapter 19.15 CCC, the Cowlitz County Critical Areas Protection Ordinance.

“Department” means the Cowlitz County Department of Building and Planning.

“Director” means the Director of Building and Planning or authorized representative.

“Earth material” means any rock, gravel, natural soil or any combination thereof.

“Engineered” or “engineering” means work conducted or prepared by a person licensed in the State of Washington to practice as a professional engineer. “Engineer” is further defined as a civil engineer or geotechnical engineer within this chapter.

“Engineering geologist” means an engineering geologist licensed by the State of Washington.

“Erosion” means the wearing away of the ground surface as the result of the movement of wind, water, and/or ice.

“Erosion and sedimentation control” means any measure taken to reduce erosion, control siltation and sedimentation, and ensure that sediment-laden water does not leave the site.

“Excavation” means the removal of earth material.

“Existing grade” is the grade prior to grading.

“Fill” means a deposit of clean earth material or concrete pieces less than one cubic foot in volume.

“Finished grade” is the final grade of the site that conforms to an approved plan.

“Forest practices” means any activity conducted on or directly pertaining to forest land and related to growing, harvesting, or processing timber as described in Chapter 222-16 WAC.

“Geotechnical engineer” means a professional engineer licensed by the State of Washington to practice in the field of civil engineering who has experience and is knowledgeable in the theory of geology, soils testing, and geotechnical engineering.

“Grade” means the elevation of the ground surface.

“Grading” is any excavation or filling activity or combination thereof.

“Grading (engineered)” is grading on sites with a natural slope in excess of 50 percent, or requiring grading of 5,000 cubic yards, or which are located within a critical area as defined in Chapter 19.15 CCC, the Cowlitz County Critical Areas Protection Ordinance.

“Grading permit” means the permit required by this chapter for grading activities.

“Horticulture activities” means the growing of fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants for commercial purposes.

“Permit area boundary” means the defined boundary surrounding grading activity. The permit area boundary will usually be the property lines for the parcel; however, alternate boundaries may be defined on larger parcels with a limited grading area.

“Rough grade” is the stage at which the grade approximately conforms to an approved plan.

“Site” means any lot or parcel of land or contiguous combination thereof where activities regulated by this chapter are performed.

“Slope” is an inclined ground surface, the inclination of which is expressed as a ratio of horizontal distance to vertical distance.

“State shorelines” are those water bodies, adjacent lands, and associated wetlands defined as such by the Shoreline Management Act (RCW 90.58.030).

“Structure” is that which is built or constructed, an edifice or building of any kind, or any piece of work artificially built up or composed of parts joined together in some definite manner. [Ord. 04-135, § 13, 6-22-04.]

16.35.140 Severability.

If any section, subsection, or other portion of this chapter is for any reason held invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction, such section, subsection, or portion thereof shall be deemed a separate provision of this chapter and such holding shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this chapter. Where conflicts exist between standards, the more restrictive shall apply. [Ord. 04-135, § 14, 6-22-04.]

16.35.150 Liability for damages.

This chapter shall not be construed to hold Cowlitz County, its officers, employees or agents responsible for any injury or damage resulting from the failure of any person subject to this chapter to comply with this chapter, or by reason or in consequence of any act or omission in connection with the implementation or enforcement of this chapter on the part of Cowlitz County, its officers, employees or agents. [Ord. 04-135, § 15, 6-22-04.]

16.35.160 Conflict with other regulations.

Where other Cowlitz County ordinances, resolutions, or regulations, or other state or local regulations are in conflict with this chapter, the more restrictive regulation shall apply and such application shall extend to those specific provisions which are more restrictive. [Ord. 04-135, § 16, 6-22-04.]