In This Section You Will Learn:
- what are SEQR findings;
- who prepares SEQR findings; and,
- time frames and filing requirements for SEQR findings.
1. What are SEQR findings?
A findings statement is a written document, prepared following acceptance of a final EIS, which declares that all SEQR requirements for making decisions on an action have been met. The findings statement identifies the social and economic, as well as environmental, considerations that have been weighed in making a decision to approve or disapprove an action. A positive findings statement means that, after consideration of the final EIS, the project or action can be approved, and the action chosen is the one that minimizes or avoids environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. For an action which can be approved, an agency's findings statement must articulate that agency's balancing of adverse environmental impacts against the needs for and benefits of the action. If the action cannot be approved based on analyses in the final EIS, a negative findings statement must be prepared, documenting the reasons for the denial.
Each involved agency, not only the lead agency, must prepare its own SEQR findings following acceptance of a final EIS. Findings provide "the teeth" in the SEQR process because they articulate the basis for substantive aspects of each agency's decision, including supporting any conditions to be imposed by the agency. Whether findings support approval or denial of an action, the agency's reasoning must be stated in the form of facts and conclusions that are derived from the final EIS.
2. Are SEQR findings mandatory?
Yes. The preparation of written SEQR findings is required by the SEQR regulations for any action that has been the subject of a final EIS.
3. What is the role of findings in the decision-making process?
Findings provide a rationale for agency decisions, including any conditions to be attached to the agency's approval. Should an agency decision be challenged, findings also provide a record to help explain the agency's decision-making. The findings procedure allows each involved agency to consider the relevant environmental factors presented in the final EIS, and balance and weigh essential considerations, including the economic and social factors, in reaching its decision on its underlying jurisdiction.
4. May SEQR findings ever be made before a final EIS is completed?
No. SEQR findings are only made after a final EIS. Determinations of significance, made as a result of EAF review, may resemble findings in style and assessment of potential impacts; however, SEQR findings, which provide a basis for specific conditions or limitations included in an agency's decision, may only be issued after a final EIS.
5. Are "findings" unique to SEQR?
Some other local government review procedures, such as the granting of zoning variances, also require the decision-making agency to make "findings". These other "findings" are specific to those jurisdictions and are not the same as, nor may they substitute for, SEQR findings.
6. Who makes SEQR findings?
All involved agencies must make findings.
7. May an involved agency rely on the lead agency to make the required findings?
No. Each involved agency is responsible for preparing its own findings. However, if an involved agency concurs with the completed findings of the lead agency, and those findings respond fully to the environmental concerns of the involved agency, then the involved agency may adopt all or a portion of the lead agency's findings within the involved agency's findings.
8. Are SEQR findings the same as an agency's decision on an action?
No. The SEQR findings are the basis for decisions on an action. An agency may choose to include the findings statement as part of its decision; however, a findings statement by itself does not constitute a decision. Also, a decision alone will not satisfy the SEQR requirement for findings.
9. Can findings differ among involved agencies?
Agencies involved in the same action may have entirely different findings. This can result from agencies' differing balancing of environmental with social and economic factors, as well as from fundamental differences among agencies' underlying jurisdictions. An involved agency is not obligated to make the same findings as the lead agency or any other involved agency. However, findings must be based on, and related to, information in the EIS record. If one agency prepares positive findings, and another prepares negative findings, the action cannot go forward unless the conflict is resolved.
10. What if an agency cannot make findings to approve?
An agency must not undertake, approve or fund any part of an action, if it cannot support positive findings and demonstrate, consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations from among the reasonable alternatives, that the action:
- minimizes or avoids adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable, and,
- incorporates into the decision those mitigation measures identified in the SEQR process as practicable.
An agency decision to disapprove an action on environmental grounds must be accompanied by negative findings. If one agency issues positive findings, but another issues negative findings, the action cannot go forward unless the conflict is resolved.
11. Are there time frames for making findings?
Yes. Each agency involved in an action, including the lead agency, must wait a minimum of 10 calendar days after the lead agency has filed the final EIS before any can make findings. The purpose of the waiting period is to allow agencies and the public reasonable time to consider the final EIS.
When an action involves an applicant, the lead agency must make its findings no more than 30 calendar days after the final EIS is filed, or longer with agreement of the project sponsor. Other involved agencies may make their findings whenever they make their final decisions.
12. Are there filing requirements for SEQR findings?
Yes. Section 617.12(b) requires that involved agencies file copies of their SEQR findings with the applicant, and with all other agencies involved in the action. Each involved agency must also retain copies in its files, available for public inspection. No publication is required.
13. Why must all involved agencies receive copies of the others' SEQR findings?
The sharing of findings among involved agencies allows agencies making subsequent decisions to benefit from the thinking processes, represented in the SEQR findings statements, as the agencies make their discretionary decisions related to the action analyzed by the final EIS. Where any involved agency imposes conditions or mitigation measures on an action, it is important for other agencies to know what has been required. This can help avoid conflicts and assist in SEQR compliance.
14. Why is consideration of social and economic factors included within SEQR findings?
It is not the intention of SEQR for environmental factors to be the sole consideration in agency decision-making. The purpose of SEQR is to ensure that the environmental impacts of an action are weighed and balanced with social, economic and other considerations so that a suitable balance of social, economic and environmental factors may be incorporated in the planning and decision-making processes of state, regional and local agencies.
15. How should an agency balance environmental harm against social and economic benefits in order to approve an action?
SEQR gives considerable discretion to agencies to make decisions consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations. This allows agencies to approve actions providing social or economic benefits even if all environmental impacts cannot be totally avoided or mitigated. However, the underlying requirements that adverse environmental impacts must be avoided or minimized, and mitigation measures applied, remain. Thus, the more a project provides important, public, social and economic needs or benefits, the more an agency may conclude that it can accept certain adverse environmental impacts.
16. Can conditions and mitigation measures outside the scope of an agency's jurisdiction be incorporated into that agency's SEQR findings?
Yes. Based on the draft and final EISs, and any related application material, a lead agency should incorporate all appropriate mitigation measures as conditions to its decision making, even if such conditions do not specifically fall within the agency's jurisdictional authority. However, conditions imposed by a lead or involved agency cannot infringe upon the jurisdiction of any other involved agency. In order for an agency to incorporate mitigation measures as conditions for its approval, the agency must identify the supporting reasons in its SEQR findings statement, based on specific information from the final EIS.
17. Must all mitigation be limited to the project site?
No. Because of the substantive nature of the SEQR process, reasonable mitigation justified in the findings statement should be applied, even when such mitigation may be off the project site. The offsite mitigation must be reasonably related to the impacts from the action, and both achievable and deliverable by the project sponsor.
18. What is the basis for imposing conditions outside of an agency's basic authority?
The core substantive requirement for SEQR findings is the conclusion that all significant adverse environmental impacts have been avoided, minimized, or mitigated, to the maximum extent practicable. This gives agencies the authority, following the filing of a final EIS, to use the written SEQR findings as the basis for requiring substantive conditions, that fully or partially mitigate identified adverse impacts, within the approval for an action (see Town of Henrietta v. DEC, 1980). Using SEQR findings as a basis for conditions ensures that SEQR is not just a procedure, but instead, that the information gathered by the environmental review process will affect agency decisions. The agency may even impose conditions that are beyond the agency's jurisdiction, unless those conditions would intrude upon another agency's jurisdiction.
19. What are some examples of an agency imposing conditions outside its basic authority, based on its SEQR findings?
- As a condition of granting a rezoning, a town board could require the developer of commercial property, which would generate significant traffic, to install traffic control devices at an intersection several blocks away, as long as no other agency has dedicated traffic control jurisdiction.
- An agency may require fencing or landscaping as a visual or sound barrier between commercial and residential property when granting a wetland or discharge permit, as long as no other agency with jurisdiction over that project has the authority to mitigate the identified impacts.
20. Is a supplemental findings statement ever appropriate?
Yes. An agency may choose to prepare a supplemental findings statement in at least two circumstances:
- A supplemental findings statement may be necessary if changes are proposed by a project sponsor after issuance of the FEIS and the agency's SEQR findings, and the agency will be required to issue an amended or modified approval. As long as the final EIS contains sufficient information for the agency to analyze the impacts of the sponsor's proposed changes, the agency may issue a supplemental findings statement to document and support its decision concerning the proposed project changes, including any new conditions the agency may attach to its decision.
- If a supplemental EIS is prepared after an agency has issued its SEQR findings, but that agency must issue one or more discretionary decisions, the agency may issue a supplemental findings statement taking into account the supplemental EIS.
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