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,
- the application of the revised model EAFs, workbooks and mapper.
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 full 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). Instructions included on each form should be read and carefully followed. 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 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. 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.
7. How are the EAFs structured?
An EAF consists of three parts:
- Part 1 of the 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 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.
- Part 3 of the EAF provides the opportunity to assess the importance of each potentially moderate to large impact. If one or more impacts identified in Part 2 are potentially moderate to large, the lead agency is required to address their importance in Part 3. If there is a special concern for a particular small adverse impact, it should also be considered in this Part of the EAF. The lead agency must complete its own analysis and is responsible for all decisions made during preparation of Part 3.
8. When should the lead agency prepare Part 3 of an EAF?
The instructions for Part 3 of the EAF require that it be prepared if one or more impact(s) is considered to be potentially moderate to large. However, some agencies will complete Part 3 even for impacts that have been identified as being small in magnitude. Using Part 3 in this fashion allows agencies to explain why the impact was determined not to be potentially large.
9. My board or agency prefers to use the Full-EAF for all applications. Can we continue that practice?
The Department strongly urges lead agencies to use the Short EAF for all Unlisted actions except for activities that fall just below a numeric threshold that if exceeded would have resulted in the activity being classified as a Type I action. Examples of Unlisted actions that fall just under the Type I threshold (where use of the Full EAF may be more appropriate) would include the construction of a commercial structure with 225,000 square feet of gross floor area in a city, town or village with more than 150,000 persons. Since the numeric threshold for this activity is 240,000 square feet of gross floor area, the project falls just below the Type I threshold. In general, the new Short EAF is adequate for all but the most large-scale Unlisted actions. Lead agencies should reasonably exercise their discretion when asking a project sponsor of an Unlisted action to complete the Full EAF. In exercising their discretion, lead agencies should ask whether it needs all of the information and analysis that is called for in the full form.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. Why were the EAFs revised?
The short and full EAF had not been substantively changed in over 25 years, and were seriously out of date. Neither form addressed many of the current impact issues that have become a standard part of an environmental assessment. This required the completion of additional studies and many rounds of back & forth between the project sponsor and the reviewing agencies. The revised EAFs along with the EAF Workbooks and EAF Mapper should provide agencies with the tools needed to conduct a thorough environmental assessment.
16. When should we start using the new EAFs?
The new model environmental assessment forms (EAFs) took effect on Monday, October 7, 2013. Project sponsors that submit an EAF in support of an application for funding or a discretionary approval from a state or local agency on or after October 7, 2013 must use the new model EAF forms. If the project sponsor has submitted Part I of the EAF before October 7, 2013 then the lead agency should complete parts 2 and 3 using the pre-October 7, 2013 EAF.
17. Can an agency continue to use the pre-October 7, 2013 EAFs after October 7, 2013?
No. On or after October 7, 2013, agencies must use the new EAF forms except in individual cases where Part I was submitted by the project sponsor to an agency before October 7, 2013.
18. Where can I find more information about the use of the new EAFs?
The EAF Workbooks contain ample information that will assist both project sponsors and agencies to use the new EAFs. They were developed in conjunction with the new EAFs and are available on the Department's website for the Revised Model EAF Forms and Draft Workbook.
19. Can the revised model EAFs that became effective on October 7, 2013 also serve as the determination of significance?
Yes. The revised model EAFs were designed to also serve as the determination of significance. If adequately completed, the new model EAFs 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 identified in Part 2 may, or will not have, a significant adverse environmental impact.
20. Now that the forms are designed to be completed electronically are lead agencies required to accept e-filing of the forms?
No. Agencies are not required to accept electronic versions of the new forms. However, the new EAFs have been designed to accommodate e-submission should a local or state agency have the capability and desire to accept application forms via an electronic submission.
21. Can our board or agency still require paper submission of forms?
22. Can the new forms be completed without the use of a computer with internet access?
Yes. The new forms can be completed without the use of a computer or internet access. However, the new forms, workbooks and mapper software were designed to work best when used together. Using the new EAFs without these tools will add to the time needed to complete the forms.
23. Can my community adopt its own forms?
Yes. While the Legislature directed the DEC to prepare model EAF forms (which are used by almost all agencies in the State with one notable exception being the City of New York) the SEQR regulations provide that "[t]he model full and short EAFs contained in Appendices A and C of section 617.20 of this Part [changed to appendices A and B] may be modified by an agency to better serve it in implementing SEQR, provided the scope of the modified form is as comprehensive as the model." The downside of an agency adopting its own forms is that such forms may not be sufficiently comprehensive, and not have the benefits of the new model forms which are designed to work with the EAF workbooks and new EAF Mapper software.
24. Does my board or agency need to review the workbook or rely on it when completing the new forms?
No. However, the workbooks are an invaluable resource in completing the new EAFs. The workbooks explain the background behind each question and provide additional sources of information that can be consulted if the project sponsor or the agency would like to get additional information on a topic. The workbooks also make generous use of examples to illustrate typical situations that project sponsors and agencies encounter when conducting an environmental assessment.
25. What is the EAF Mapper software program and how does it help project sponsors and lead agencies to complete the new forms?
Using the EAF Mapper, a project sponsor can obtain answers to certain spatial information questions contained in Part I simply by identifying the proposed project location. Six questions on Part 1 of the Short EAF and up to 20 questions in Part 1 of the Full EAF will be completed by the EAF Mapping software. The EAF, as completed by the Mapper program, can then be electronically saved to allow for completion of remaining questions on the form. This should reduce the time and effort spent by project sponsors in the preparation of Part I of the EAF.
26. How complete is the spatial data used to answer questions for the new forms?
The spatial data used by the EAF mapping program to complete the new EAFs is based on the GIS data sets used and maintained by DEC, or actively maintained by various agencies and shared with DEC. The spatial data on the EAF Mapper will be updated on the same schedule as the DEC internal GIS. The only difference between the EAF mapping program data and the mapping information used by DEC staff is the inclusion of buffers in the mapping program. These buffers have been added to account for the different scales used for preparing the resource maps and the base maps, to insure that all resources are identified in the initial screen of a project, and in some cases to protect resources such as species that are classified as threatened or endangered and archaeological sites where disclosing the exact location of the resource may be detrimental to the protection of the species or artifact.
27. Can an applicant disagree with the answers provided by the EAF Mapper software?
Yes. The use of buffers will mean that some projects will receive an answer that the site may be close to a mapped resource. If the project sponsor believes that a project location is within the buffer area but sufficiently far enough away from the resource to render the issue not relevant or non-significant they may need to provide more specific supporting information to the reviewing agency as part of its EAF submission. A project sponsor, involved agency or the public can confirm the information provided by the spatial data platform through site visits and the use of consulting services if technical assistance is needed.
28. Does the lead agency have to confirm the answer provided by the EAF Mapper software if the program determines that a resource is not present on, or adjacent to, the proposed project site?
No. Given the incorporation of a buffer into the spatial data there should not be any need to confirm the data provided by the EAF Mapper software when it determines that the project site does not contain or is not located in proximity to a mapped resource.
29. Will a project sponsor need to hire a consultant to complete the new EAFs?
The short EAF was designed to be completed without the need for consultant services. If a project sponsor uses the EAF Mapper it will provide an answer to the 6 place-based questions contained in Part 1 of the short EAF. The remaining 14 questions depend on the project sponsor's specific knowledge of the site and the proposed activity. Also, the short EAF Workbook will provide background information and guidance, including illustrative examples, should the project sponsor needs any assistance. A project sponsor can always obtain the services of a consultant but many project sponsors for Unlisted actions will find that using the short EAF Workbook and the EAF Mapper are sufficient to answer the Part 1 questions.
The full EAF which is required for all Type I actions may require the services of a consultant depending on the size and nature of the proposed project. The EAF Mapper software will provide the answer to approximately 20 of the place-based questions contained in Part 1 of the full EAF and the workbook will provide background information and guidance, including illustrative examples. However, depending on the technical capability of the project sponsor there may be questions that will require the services of a consultant. Currently, many project sponsors for Type I actions hire consultants to assist in the completion of the full EAF and the supporting materials needed for an application for local and state permits. We expect that this will continue.
30. If I hire a professional consultant, will they have to follow the workbooks?
No. Project sponsors and agencies are free to use or not use the workbooks. The workbooks are intended to serve as a resource tool on how to complete the EAFs.
31. Can the workbooks be used to challenge the information contained in EAFs?
If a project sponsor or agency has consulted the workbooks and used them to help in the completion of an EAF and in the conduct of an environmental assessment, they should have a solid record in support of their actions. The public (who has always played a major role in the review of projects) could consult the workbooks as they submit questions or comments on an environmental assessment.