A. Environmental Assessments
In This Section You Will Learn:
- what is involved in the preparation of an environmental assessment form;
- what is the role of the lead agency in preparing the EAF;
- the need for professional sign-offs on materials represented for review in an EAF; and,
- what is the intended use of the visual EAF addendum.
1. What is an environmental assessment?
An environmental assessment is an evaluation of the known or potential environmental consequences of a proposed action. During an environmental assessment, involved and interested agencies have the opportunity to identify their concerns about an action, provide guidance to the lead agency in making its determination of significance, and help determine whether additional relevant information about potential impacts is needed.
2. What is an environmental assessment form (EAF)?
An environmental assessment form (EAF) is a document developed specifically for SEQR that provides an organized approach to identifying and assessing the information needed by the lead agency as it makes its determination of significance. A properly completed EAF describes the proposed action, its location, its purpose and its potential impacts on the environment.
3. Who prepares an EAF?
Agencies undertaking direct actions and applicants for funding or approval complete Part 1 of the environmental assessment form (EAF). Completion of Parts 2 and 3 of the EAF is the responsibility of the lead agency.
4. How is the EAF organized?
There are two versions of EAF which are used during SEQR review - the short EAF and full (long) EAF. For Unlisted actions, either a short or long EAF may be used [see 617.6(a)(3)]. For Type I actions, a full EAF must be used [see 617.6(a)(2)]. Both forms contain three parts. Part 1 is intended to provide a concise description of the whole action and basic data about the project and its site. Part 2 examines the range of possible impacts and their magnitude in order to assess their significance. Part 3 evaluates the importance of such impact(s). Questions 5, 6 and 7 of this section expand on the content and use of all three parts of both the full and short EAF. Instructions included on each form should be read and carefully followed. Both the full EAF and short EAF forms may be found in Appendices A and C of the hard copies of Part 617.20. For on-line copies of these forms go to the State Environmental Review Act (SEQR) Forms web page.
5. What is the short environmental assessment form (short EAF)?
The short EAF is a two-page form intended exclusively for use in evaluating Unlisted actions. Unlisted actions may require a less detailed level of review before a determination of significance is made.
6. Can the short EAF also serve as the negative declaration?
Yes. The short EAF was designed to also satisfy the requirements for a negative declaration. If adequately completed, the short EAF will meet the test for a legally sufficient determination of significance. Adequate completion means that: Part 1 must contain a description of the proposed action that identifies the whole action being reviewed; Part 2 must identify the relevant environmental impacts; and Part 3 must contain a discussion of why the relevant impacts that were identified will not have a significant adverse impact. For actions which have limited impacts, it may be possible to combine the analysis required in Parts 2 and 3 in the space provided for Part 2 without using additional sheets. When completed in this fashion it is not necessary to prepare a separate negative declaration. If in doubt, the agency should not hesitate to use additional sheets or complete a full EAF.
7. What is the full environmental assessment form (full EAF)?
The full EAF is an expanded form intended for use primarily, but not exclusively, for Type I actions. The full EAF may also be used for Unlisted actions when a greater level of documentation and analysis is appropriate.
8. How is the full EAF structured?
A full EAF consists of three parts:
- Part 1 of the full EAF provides baseline information about a proposed action and its setting. It is expected that applicants or project sponsors will complete Part 1 since they are most familiar with the proposed action or project site. The information provided in Part 1 will serve as the basis for the completion of Parts 2 and 3 by the lead agency. For this reason, it is important that the lead agency carefully check the information submitted in Part 1. The lead agency may require the applicant to clarify or expand upon information provided in Part 1 and ask for additional information (maps for example) needed for review of the project.
- Part 2 of the full EAF helps to identify the major categories of impacts and identifies the magnitude of each impact. The lead agency must complete its own analysis and is responsible for all decisions made during preparation of Part 2. The EAF forms provide examples of impacts with thresholds that agencies can use to assist them in determining impact magnitude. The EAFs also provide an opportunity to identify whether the effect of each impact can be mitigated or reduced.
- Part 3 of the full EAF provides the opportunity to assess the importance of each potentially large impact. If one or more impacts identified in Part 2 are potentially large, the lead agency is required to address their importance in Part 3. If there is a special concern for a particular small-to-moderate adverse impact, it should also be considered in this Part of the EAF. Since the word "importance" has a wide range of meanings, the form includes a listing of characteristics that may be used to clarify the term. The lead agency must still complete its own analysis and is responsible for all decisions made during preparation of Part 3.
9. When should the lead agency prepare Part 3 of the full EAF?
The instructions for Part 3 of the full EAF require that it be prepared if one or more impact(s) is considered to be potentially large, even if the impact(s) may be mitigated. However, some agencies will complete Part 3 even for impacts that have been identified as being small to moderate. Using Part 3 in this fashion allows agencies to explain why the impact was determined not to be potentially large.
10. Can an agency use a full EAF for both Unlisted and Type 1 actions?
Yes. If an agency is uncomfortable with the level of detail contained in the short EAF, it has the option of using the full EAF for any and all actions. When an Unlisted action falls just below one of the thresholds set in 617.4(b) for Type I action elevation, it may be wise to use a full EAF. However, if the lead agency has identified only one or two specific concerns which are not satisfactorily answered in a short EAF, it can address these issues independently without going through the additional effort of a full EAF. It should be far more important to a lead agency to acquire information meaningful to its decision-making, than to accumulate a mass of irrelevant data.
11. Can the lead agency request additional information after receiving Part 1 of the EAF?
Yes. If an EAF provides insufficient information to make a well supported determination of significance, the lead agency may make a request for any additional information reasonably necessary to make its determination. The lead agency may also request technical assistance from the applicant in completion of Parts 2 and 3 of the EAF, but the final completed EAF is the responsibility of the lead agency.
12. How should a lead agency address proposed actions that do not fit with the categories in Part 1?
The EAFs were designed for projects that will result in physical changes. For this reason, the forms are often found to be inadequate for actions that have no direct physical impacts, such as the adoption of comprehensive plans and regulations. When this situation occurs, many agencies will attempt to answer as many questions as possible and then they will provide a narrative description of the action in Part 1(D). Part 1(D) is also the place where project sponsors can list additional studies and reports that provide greater detail about the proposed action thereby incorporating them into the EAF.
13. Is an EAF always required?
No. The lead agency may waive the requirement for an EAF if an application is accompanied by a draft EIS in lieu of an EAF. However, this pre-filed draft should be reviewed as if it were an EAF for purposes of coordinating review, establishing the lead agency and determining significance. If the lead agency determines that the action is, in fact, significant, it should evaluate the pre-filed draft EIS to determine if it is adequate in content and detail to serve as the public review document. If information needed for environmental assessment or final determination are missing, the lead agency should request this material from the applicant. All necessary modifications should be made by the preparer before its acceptance by the lead agency as a draft EIS for public review.
14. Can the public review a "pre-filed" EIS?
Yes. The pre-filed draft of the EIS must be released to the public, if it is requested. This is true even if the EIS is expected to be modified before being officially filed and accepted as a Draft EIS. Courts have ruled that when submitted to the lead agency, this document enters the public domain and, as such, is subject to Freedom of Information requests. Any proprietary information or trade secrets that might be submitted with the EIS would not be "FOILable, however.
Although the public may read the pre-filed draft EIS, the lead agency does not have to accept any comments on this document. Once the Draft EIS is officially filed and accepted, the comment period will begin. Only comments on the officially filed DEIS will be accepted.
15. Can the full EAF also serve as the negative declaration?
No. The full EAF cannot serve as the negative declaration. However, if the agency has adequately completed Part 3 of the full EAF, much of that information can be used as the reasons in support of the negative declaration.
16. Can agencies create their own EAF?
Yes. Under 617.2(m) of the SEQR regulations, the model full and short EAF's may be modified by an agency provided the form remains at least as comprehensive as the model.
17. Must an EAF be signed and certified by licensed professionals?
No. ECL Article 8 makes no special provision for any professional sign-off on material presented for review under SEQR.
18. If the "public controversy" box is checked yes, must the action be determined to be significant?
No. Public controversy itself does not indicate significance but if there is substantial controversy over a potential impact the lead agency should give close attention to assessing that impact.
19. What is the Visual EAF Addendum?
The Visual EAF Addendum is primarily intended to be used in conjunction with the full EAF but may also be used with the short EAF. It provides information for determining whether a proposed action may have significant impacts on visual resources. The Visual EAF Addendum focuses on four categories for examining the visual significance of a project:
- description of the existing visual/scenic environment;
- identification of the degree to which the proposed action will be visible;
- determination of who will see the project and in what context, e.g. worker, tourist, local resident; and
- identification of the degree of visual compatibility or incompatibility of the project with the existing or projected environment.
While this conceptual approach for determining visual significance relies heavily on objective measurements, there will always remain some degree of subjective discretion on the part of the agency decision-maker.
The department has developed a tool, Program Policy #DEP-00-1 Assessing and Mitigating Visual Impacts, for anyone wanting to know more about how to review a visual impact assessment.
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