E. Making SEQR More Efficient
In This Section You Will Learn:
- ways to make the SEQR process more efficient.
1. How can an agency efficiently incorporate SEQR into its existing administrative and review procedures?
There are several ways an agency can improve the coordination of SEQR with the agency's existing review procedures. The most effective way is to integrate SEQR into the day-to-day operations of the agency decision making process. The following suggestions are examples of measures which could improve an agency's ability to effectively and efficiently comply with the requirements of SEQR:
- Provide the intake officer or clerk with training, so that when a project sponsor is obtaining the needed application forms for an approval, the officer or clerk can make a preliminary determination regarding the SEQR classification of the action, and based on that preliminary classification, also provide the project sponsor with appropriate SEQR forms.
- Incorporate the EAF as part of the routine application materials, and direct project sponsors to complete Part I of the EAF. Agencies should require the full EAF if there is any question regarding the SEQR classification of the proposed action.
- Ensure that staff and board members are familiar with the lists of Type I and Type II actions contained in 6 NYCRR Part 617, Sections 4 and 5 (link leaves DEC website.) When a board or agency is able to quickly identify routine, smaller actions as Type II, and briefly document that classification in the project file or resolution, that agency or board will be able to more rapidly advance those routine applications, reserving SEQR review time for larger, more complex projects.
- Adopt an individual agency Type II list. The SEQR regulations give agencies the authority to add to the statewide Type II list. If an agency finds that it is frequently receiving applications for similar Unlisted actions, and those activities do not have significant environmental impacts, the agency should consider adopting local rules to classify those activities as Type II.
- Since it is not necessary to coordinate SEQR review for all Unlisted actions, an agency or board may reasonably use the uncoordinated review option for reviewing Unlisted actions that are likely to have minimal impacts. As long as no other involved agency's review is likely to result in substantial changes to project design, uncoordinated review can save the agency or board some processing time and allow the agency to proceed to its final decision.
- Develop intra- or inter-agency agreements for administering SEQR. Where there is good communication between agencies, prior agreement on the lead agency for specified, repetitive actions can substantially reduce the amount of time spent on the initial steps of a SEQR review by resolving the lead agency question in advance, when there are no other involved agencies. The SEQR regulations (link leaves DEC website) encourage agencies to enter into cooperative agreements for the purposes of coordinating their procedures. For example, a municipality's planning board and legislative board, and the county health department, could enter into an agreement that for residential projects where all three boards are involved agencies, the planning board will be the lead agency.
- Develop a routine internal procedure for reviewing information submitted by a project sponsor. For example, involving the municipal engineer or the code enforcement officer early in the SEQR review process will make the results of their reviews available to the lead agency prior to the determination of significance.
- Do not determine an application for an approval complete before either a negative declaration has been prepared, or a draft or final EIS has been accepted. For many approvals, the determination that an application is complete starts a time clock for the agency to issue its final decision. Inappropriately triggering such a time clock before complying with SEQR may result in the agency rushing the SEQR review in order to complete it in time, or suspending the time clock in order to perform the SEQR review. Both of these results are inefficient and could lead to litigation.
2. What can a local official do to efficiently participate in SEQR reviews?
There are several things that a local board member or agency official can do in order to effectively participate in a SEQR review.
- In many municipalities, there are typically some classes of projects which frequently come before one or more boards. If the individual board members are familiar with the SEQR classifications of those project types under Part 617, decisions such as classifying an action, determining the correct EAF, and deciding whether to coordinate become much simpler.
- By including the SEQR classification and status of the review as a routine component in board resolutions, the board can provide notice that the agency has considered SEQR for a particular project. Additionally, making SEQR status a routine component of resolutions can serve as a reminder that SEQR must be addressed prior to the board issuing its final decision on a project.
- Board members often find that reviewing the EAF, preparing a draft of Part 2 and Part 3, and even preparing a draft of the determination of significance ahead of time, leads to more productive discussion at the actual meeting, and can result in better decision making as well as improved quality of SEQR documentation. Particularly for contentious projects, it can be very difficult to complete an EAF or to prepare an adequate determination of significance during the heat of a board meeting.
- As an alternative to solo reviews, some boards use working groups to review or prepare drafts of documents. A working group comprised of some of the board members, with or without assistance from staff, can review material submitted by a project sponsor and draft material for the board's consideration. When draft material is submitted to the full board, it is important that all members review and understand the material before acting.
- Establish realistic timetables for SEQR review and decisions. It is good practice to meet with an applicant and lay out a probable time schedule, but it is rarely possible to guarantee that a final decision will be made by a certain date, or that a specific action will be taken at a specific board meeting. By providing realistic projections, and alerting the project sponsor to possible stumbling blocks, board members can avoid unrealistically raising the expectations of an applicant, or creating other difficulties for all parties if events can not proceed exactly as projected.
3. What can a project sponsor do to efficiently participate in SEQR reviews?
There are several things that a project sponsor can do to make the SEQR review of its proposal more effective and efficient:
- Learn and understand SEQR procedures so that you can discuss them in a knowledgeable way with the involved agencies.
- If the action is large, multifaceted, controversial or in an area that is particularly sensitive environmentally; it may be advantageous to work with an environmental consultant before an application is submitted, to help avoid potential impacts or suggest reasonable mitigation measures which can be included in project design.
- Request a pre-application meeting with all agencies that may have an approval or permit to issue. At such a meeting, agencies can identify permit requirements, potential environmental issues, alternatives, mitigation measures and the likelihood for public controversy. Knowledge of these factors will allow you to incorporate environmental planning into your proposal before filing an application. Meetings with interested civic and environmental organizations may also be helpful.
- When completing Part 1 of the environmental assessment form (EAF), regardless of whether the short or full EAF, respond to all items thoroughly. This can save time by enabling reviewing agencies to identify potential environmental concerns early. Issues that are overlooked or initially avoided can become far more time consuming if not identified until later in the review process, such as when raised by a member of the public.
- When responding to agency inquiries, submit material in a timely manner. When a lead agency is facing a SEQR decision deadline, a sponsor may want to verify that the lead agency has all information necessary to make that decision.
- If a lead agency has required an EIS for your project, request the agency to conduct formal scoping. Scoping provides both an opportunity for early identification of all relevant environmental issues and impacts, and a written confirmation of the lead agency's expectations for the content of the draft EIS.
- Prepare a clear and precise draft EIS, written in plain language. Avoid including extraneous material in the document. It will speed up the review if the draft EIS presents the information in a concise, objective and factually accurate manner. Where complex, highly technical models or studies are developed for an EIS, summarize the results in the main body of the EIS, and include the detailed supporting documentation only as appendices.
- Provide a sufficient number of copies of the EIS for public review. If the EIS is large and too expensive to provide everyone with his or her own copy, make the documents widely available at public libraries, offices of the lead and involved agencies, or any other publicly accessible facilities in the vicinity of the project site. In addition, cooperate with the lead agency in making arrangements for posting the EIS on a publicly accessible web site.
- If the lead agency requests assistance in developing responses to some or all comments received on the draft EIS, provide accurate and timely input.
4. How can interested citizens or groups participate effectively in SEQR reviews?
- To contribute productively to a SEQR review, interested citizens and groups need to understand the formal rules which govern SEQR as well as the rules which apply to the lead agency's general management of applications. For example, local boards must post their meeting dates and probable agendas, while state agencies typically rely on published notices.
- Ensure that any comments or other submissions to the lead agency focus on relevant potential environmental impacts of a project, and are not merely expressions of support or opposition.
- Be aware of the status of applications in your area of interest, so that you are able to provide early input to the lead agency.
- Additional information on citizen participation in the SEQR process is available in the pamphlet, "A Citizens Guide to SEQR (PDF)" (972 KB).
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