E. SEQR Hearings
In This Section You Will Learn:
- when hearings are held;
- types of hearings;
- who may participate in hearings; and,
- notice requirements of hearings.
1. Must a hearing be held on a draft EIS?
No. Hearings are optional under SEQR. The decision whether or not to hold a hearing must be made by the lead agency for each EIS. Frequently, however, other laws related to decisions on the action, such as a local rezoning or subdivision plat approval, may require that a public hearing be held. SEQR regulations encourage combining such mandatory hearings with a SEQR hearing.
2. Is a SEQR hearing required for a Type I action?
No. Even when a draft EIS has been prepared for a Type I action, the lead agency must still decide whether to hold a hearing on that particular EIS.
3. When are hearings held during the EIS process?
Hearings are held after the notice of completion of a draft EIS, during the public comment period.
4. How should a lead agency determine whether to hold a SEQR hearing on a draft EIS?
In determining whether or not to hold a SEQR hearing, the SEQR regulations at 617.9(a)(4) direct the lead agency to consider:
- The degree of interest in the action shown by the public or involved agencies;
- Whether substantive or significant environmental issues have been raised;
- The adequacy of the mitigation measures proposed;
- The extent of alternatives considered; and
- The degree to which a public hearing can aid the agency decision making process by providing an efficient mechanism for the collection of public comments.
In addition, in determining whether to hold a SEQR hearing, the lead agency should consider if there is a need for:
- An opportunity for broader public disclosure;
- Solicitation of important and informative comment by certain interest groups, technical specialists, or community representatives; or
- An opportunity for a project sponsor to briefly discuss the project and draft EIS.
5. What type of hearing is required under SEQR?
SEQR does not dictate the type or form of public hearing to be held. The lead agency must decide, for each case, how formal or informal the hearing will be. Whenever possible, SEQR hearings should be incorporated into an agency's existing hearing procedures.
In general, the two classes of administrative hearings are "legislative" and "adjudicatory". A legislative hearing is a less formal proceeding which typically involves unsworn oral statements, submission of unsworn written comments, and informal record-keeping and chairing of the hearing. An adjudicatory hearing is a formal proceeding involving rules of evidence, sworn testimony, cross examination, and a stenographic record, and may be held when agency procedures so require.
6. What is the status of comments made on a draft EIS at a SEQR hearing?
Substantive comments received at a SEQR hearing become part of the official record. They must be responded to by the lead agency in the final EIS, and thus may affect agency findings and decisions on a project. If a stenographic record of the hearing is made, it becomes part of the official record of comments received on the EIS, and either the transcript or a summary must become part of the final EIS.
7. Is there a relationship between the review period and the hearings held on a draft EIS?
Yes. If a hearing is held, the review period must remain open at least 10 days after the close of the hearing to receive additional written comments. The total review period begins at the time of filing of the draft EIS and must be no less than 30 days long, whether or not a SEQR hearing is held.
8. May a SEQR hearing be held on a final EIS?
There is no requirement in the SEQR regulations for a hearing on a final EIS. A hearing on a final EIS would actually run counter to the intent of SEQR, in that a final EIS is intended to serve as the conclusion of the lead agency's environmental review of the proposed project.
9. Can involved agencies hold a SEQR hearing if the lead agency chooses not to?
No. The lead agency has the sole responsibility for determining the need for, and conducting, a SEQR hearing on a draft EIS.
10. What are the notice requirements for a SEQR hearing?
When a lead agency determines that a public hearing on an EIS is necessary, the lead agency must file a notice of such hearing with all parties identified in 617.12. The lead agency must also publish notice of the hearing at least 14 days before the hearing will begin. Publication must generally be in one local newspaper of general circulation. However, for projects of regional or statewide extent, the lead agency may instead publish the notice in the ENB and in the New York State Register. Note that hearing notice requirements in underlying jurisdictions may require different lengths of notice periods, so the lead agency should ensure that its notice of hearing satisfies the notice period requirements of SEQR, as well as those of the underlying jurisdictions.
A hearing notice must contain, at a minimum:
- the time and place of the hearing;
- purpose of the hearing; and
- a summary of the notice of completion of the draft EIS.
Since the hearing notice contains a summary of the notice of completion of the draft EIS and must be circulated to the same parties as the notice of completion of the EIS, it is good practice to combine the two notices when possible.
11. How can a SEQR hearing be made more effective?
To be effective, a hearing must be well organized. Therefore, it is good practice for the lead agency, the project sponsor and any involved agencies which have indicated an intent to participate in the hearing meet prior to the hearing to resolve ground rules for the conduct of the hearing. Key interested parties may be included in such a meeting, at the discretion of the lead agency. Issues to be resolved at the pre-hearing meeting include the following:
- identification of the participants and their role(s) in the hearing;
- hearing schedule (dates, times, places, order of issues or speakers);
- specific environmental issues to be discussed; and
- the extent, if any, of a presentation by the project sponsor.
12. If an agency complies with the "open meetings" law during its consideration of an action under SEQR, isn't this a hearing?
No. The Open Meetings Law provides for public attendance at, and observation of, a board's deliberations, but makes no provision for public participation or comments.
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