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A. Time Frames

In This Section You Will Learn:

  • about SEQR time frames.

1. What time frames does SEQR prescribe?

Unless otherwise noted, the following time frames are maximums:

SEQR Time Frame
Steps Calendar Days Citation
Establish Lead Agency 30 617.6(b)(3)(i)
Resolve a Lead Agency
Dispute
20 617.6(b)(5)(iv)
Determine Significance 20 617.6(b)(3)(ii)
Scoping (optional) 60 617.8(f)
Determine Adequacy of
a Submitted DEIS
45 617.9(a)(2)
Determine Adequacy of
a Re-submitted DEIS
30 617.9(a)(2)(ii)
DEIS Public Comment
Period
30 minimum 617.9(a)(3)
SEQR Hearing (optional) Minimum 15,
maximum 60,
after filing of DEIS
617.9(a)(4)(ii)
Prepare FEIS
(no SEQR hearing)
60 after filing of DEIS 617.9(a)(5)
Prepare FEIS
(SEQR hearing)
45 after close
of hearing
617.9(a)(5)
Prepare Findings by Lead Agency
(if the action involves an applicant)
Minimum 10,
maximum 30,
after the filing of FEIS
617.11(a)
617.11(b)
Prepare Findings by Involved Agency 10 minimum
after the filing of FEIS
617.11(c)
Conditioned Negative Declaration
public comment period
30 after date of
publication
in the ENB
617.(d)(iv)

For additional detail on any procedural step, refer to the appropriate section of the SEQR regulations, this Handbook, or the SEQR time frames flowchart (pdf, 77 kb).

2. Are the SEQR time frames mandatory?

No, with one exception. Courts have generally held that the time frames contained in SEQR are "directory", not mandatory. This means that the time frames exist to provide guidance on what is a reasonable period of time necessary to complete a step of the review, but there is no provision for default if the time frames are exceeded.

The one exception is the time period for a lead agency to issue a final scope. In this case, there is a default provision if the lead agency misses the regulatory deadline, which is that the project sponsor may use its draft scope as the basis for the draft EIS.

3. If the time frames are not mandatory, why should an agency comply?

The time frames serve as a guide to project sponsors, agencies and the courts on what is a reasonable period of time for a step to occur. Agencies should make every effort to stay within the time periods in keeping with the statutory mandate that the terms and requirements of SEQR be carried out with minimum procedural and administrative delay. Failure to comply would leave an agency vulnerable to legal challenge.

Failure to comply with minimum time frames may be a more serious procedural error than exceeding maximum time frames. Most minimum time frames in SEQR apply to public notice or review steps, so failure to provide at least the minimum time specified by SEQR could limit public participation in the SEQR review. Courts have held that public participation is a vital component of SEQR review, so failing to meet minimums could leave a lead agency's SEQR record vulnerable to challenge.

4. Can an agency vary the SEQR time frames?

Yes. Paragraph 617.14(b) allows agencies to vary the time periods contained in Part 617 in order to coordinate the SEQR process with other procedures relating to the review and approval of actions. An agency would have to adopt a local law, code, ordinance, executive order, resolution or regulation in order to establish its own SEQR time frames.

Additionally, any time period contained in Part 617 can be extended by mutual agreement between an applicant and the lead agency, on a case by case basis. It is good practice to confirm any such extensions in writing. The lead agency must provide notice of the agreement to extend time periods to all other involved agencies.

5. Is there any SEQR time frame that a lead agency can extend without the agreement of the applicant?

Yes. The time period for the preparation of a final EIS can be extended by the lead agency if it concludes that additional time is needed to adequately prepare the statement, or if it has identified problems with the proposed action that require material reconsideration or modification.

6. How do the SEQR time frames relate to the time frames specified by the enabling statutes for municipal reviews?

Municipal reviews, such as site plan, subdivision or special use permit, are subject to a range of different time frames, as specified in the state enabling statute for each jurisdiction. Additionally, local ordinances or laws may also prescribe time frames. As a result, local reviewing bodies will need to consider all time frames applicable to a particular project in determining how to incorporate SEQR into their existing routines. Local agencies must incorporate SEQR into their decision making processes early enough that the results of the environmental reviews will have real influence on their decisions.

Since SEQR requires that either a negative declaration has been issued, or a draft EIS has been accepted, before any application can be determined complete, a local board or agency may harmonize SEQR and other jurisdictional time frames by developing local ordinances which include this SEQR requirement as an element of a complete application under the local jurisdiction.

7. Must agencies use the full 30 days when establishing lead agency?

No. The time period allowed for establishing lead agency is a maximum. If all of the involved agencies can agree on which agency should act as lead agency in a shorter period of time, then it is not necessary to wait for the 30 day period to expire before going on to the next step in the process. However, the full 30 day period must be provided if an involved agency requests that it be allowed 30 days in order to make its decision, or if any involved agency does not respond before the 30 day period has expired.

8. What happens if an involved agency fails to respond within 30 days to a request to establish lead agency?

When an involved agency fails to respond within 30 days, that failure indicates that the involved agency has no interest in being lead agency and no concerns regarding the proposed action. Failure to respond within 30 days will also eliminate an involved agency's ability to raise a lead agency dispute.

9. Can an involved agency request additional information within the 30 day period before making its decision on lead agency?

Yes, as long as the information requested by that involved agency is reasonable in scope and essential to the determination of lead agency. For example, if the agency which initiated coordination for lead agency did not provide a location map, a completed Part 1 of the EAF, or a copy of the underlying application, a request for this information before making a decision would be reasonable.

10. What happens if the lead agency concludes that it needs more information before it can reach a determination of significance?

If the lead agency concludes that it needs additional information before it can reach a determination of significance, it may request that information from the project sponsor. The request should be in writing, and the information requested must be reasonable and necessary. When a request for additional information has been made, the 20 day time clock is suspended, and a new 20 day period begins when the requested information is submitted by the project sponsor.

11. When does the 60 day time period begin for issuance of a final scope?

If either the lead agency or the applicant requires formal scoping, the final written scope for the draft EIS is due 60 days from submission of a draft scope by the applicant. The lead agency may find it easier to meet this deadline if it provides public notice of any scoping meetings at the same time that the positive declaration is issued and noticed. In practice, lead agencies frequently find it necessary to negotiate with applicants for extensions of scoping deadlines.

12. When does the 45 day time period begin for determining the adequacy of a submitted draft EIS?

The 45 day time period for determining adequacy begins on the day that the document is received by the lead agency.

13. Why are only 30 days allowed to determine the adequacy of a resubmitted draft EIS?

The review of a resubmitted draft EIS should be greatly reduced in scope compared to the initial review. During the review of a resubmitted draft EIS, the lead agency should only need to check the new information and the corrected material to see if the changes that were made adequately remedy the deficiencies which the lead agency identified in its written notification to the sponsor when the first submission was rejected.

14. When does the public comment period begin on a draft EIS?

The public comment period technically begins when the lead agency accepts the draft EIS as complete. However, since there is often a delay before notice of acceptance of the draft EIS is published, it is good practice to calculate the minimum public comment period based on the publication date.

15. Is an agency required to wait for the expiration of a time period before proceeding to the next step of the review?

When minimum time periods are specified in the SEQR regulations, such as the 30 day minimum comment period on a draft EIS, an agency must wait for the expiration of the applicable time period before proceeding to the next step of the process. However, where the time frame in the regulations is a maximum, such as the 30 days to establish lead agency, an agency may proceed to the next step in the SEQR review as long as it has satisfied the substantive requirements of the current step. For example, if all involved agencies reach agreement on a lead agency before the expiration of the 30 days allowed to establish lead agency, then the lead agency may proceed to the determination of significance.

As a practical matter, agencies use various techniques to encourage timely responses from involved agencies and interested parties before the end of the time period allowed for any step in the SEQR review. Such techniques include requesting an answer by telephone and then confirming the response with a letter, or using tear off sheets to be completed with the requested information and then returned to the initiating agency. Such practices can be especially useful in harmonizing SEQR time frames with other statutory or regulatory time frames as well as with local board meeting calendars.

16. What is a reasonable time period for the public review of a draft EIS?

There is no maximum length of time for the public comment period on an accepted draft EIS. Particularly for complex or large actions, a lead agency may reasonably extend the comment period beyond the minimum required 30 days. Such extended comment periods commonly range between 30 and 60 days. If a hearing has been held on the draft EIS, the public comment period must remain open for at least 10 days following the close of the hearing.

17. When is a SEQR hearing held?

While the decision to hold a hearing on a draft EIS is at the lead agency's discretion, if such a "SEQR hearing" is to be held, it must be held no sooner than 15 days and no later than 60 days following the acceptance of the draft EIS. These time frames are intended to allow reasonable notice to the public that the hearing is to be held, while not unreasonably delaying the lead agency's completion of the final EIS. Comments made during a hearing on a draft EIS are part of the public comment record on that draft EIS.

When a lead agency does hold a SEQR hearing, it must publish notice of the hearing at least 14 days prior to the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in the area potentially affected by the proposed action. Thus, if a lead agency intends to start the hearing on a draft EIS on the first possible day (that is, on day 15 of the public comment period), that lead agency must publish the hearing notice at the same time as the notice of acceptance of the draft EIS.

18. Is the 10 day period following the filing of a final EIS a public comment period?

No. The statutory 10 day period required before agencies can issue final decisions following a final EIS is not a comment period. Instead, the 10 days are provided to allow agencies and the public time to "consider" the final EIS, that is, to receive notice that the final EIS has been filed and to evaluate its contents. Agencies and the public may submit comments on the final EIS to the lead agency, but there is no requirement for the lead agency to respond to such comments.

19. Are all agencies required to make their SEQR findings within 30 days of the filing of a final EIS?

No. The lead agency, only, is required to make its SEQR findings within 30 days only when the action under review involves an applicant. Other involved agencies must make their SEQR findings prior to making a final decision on the action, but are not subject to this 30 day requirement. For direct actions, there is no requirement for the lead agency to make its SEQR findings within a set period of time.

20. When does the minimum 30 day public comment period on a conditioned negative declaration (CND) begin?

The public comment period on a CND begins on the date that the notice appears in the Environmental Notice Bulletin.



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