Q. 9, Short EAF (Part 2) Natural Resource Impacts
Short Environmental Assessment Form Workbook
Will the proposed action result in an adverse change to natural resources?
Adverse changes on natural resources could be to both the quality and quantity of that resource. This is one topic especially, where context is critical to determine impacts. Changes might be small in size, but could still be large in magnitude, especially if the natural resource is unique and found only in small, isolated locations. Changes may also be small in size, but could also affect the quality of that resource.
Since natural resources on a project site do not typically exist in isolation from the same resources in other locations, it is important to be aware of and evaluate connections between resources on and off the project site. Many natural resources are part of complex ecological systems, so impact evaluation also needs to look at the interaction of resources. For example, wetlands, streams, and groundwater are often part of one system. When you affect one, you may affect the others.
Applicable Part 1 Information
Some of the Part 1 questions that should be specifically reviewed when answering this question are:
- Question 4
- Question 7, and related Question 4 from Part 2
- Question 13
- Question 14
- Question 15
- Questions 10, 11, 17, 19, and 20 indirectly provide information on groundwater impacts
Many factors contribute to whether there will be impacts on natural resources, and if so, if they will be small, or moderate to large. Scale and context of the project is crucial to this decision.
While it is not a requirement of the SEAF to compile a comprehensive list of species found on or near the project site, it may be helpful to the reviewing agency to make a list of all the natural resources that may be on or near the project site. You can develop this list from your own knowledge of the site and from the information you have received from the applicant, including Part 1 of the SEAF.
If the city, town, or village has a Conservation Advisory Council or Board (CAC or CAB) they can be very helpful in identifying possibly affected natural resources. They may have already compiled an inventory of natural resources, and can help identify interactions between these resources, and potential adverse impacts to them.
In order to decide if impacts will occur, the reviewing agency should look at the available information and ask:
- What natural resources are on the site?
- Are they connected to resources off the site?
- Are there any regulated resources that will be impacted such as wetlands, or streams?
- Does the project require use of groundwater?
- Are there any resources recognized in a critical environmental area?
- Are there any threatened, endangered, or unique habitats or species on the site or that may use the site in some way?
- Will the project result in any air emissions?
- Will any natural vegetation be removed? If so, how much, where and what kind?
- Will there be any fragmentation of important habitat
Will there be an impact?
There is not likely to be any impacts if the proposed project:
- Is not in or adjacent to a Critical Environmental Area (Question 7 and Part 2 Question 4)
- Contains no wetlands or waterbodies (Question 13)
- Contains no animals or associated habitats of species that are listed as threatened or endangered (Question 15)
- Will not change or pollute groundwater sources (Questions 10, 11, 17, 18, and 20)
- Will not result in regulated air emissions (Question 11)
- Does not result in the loss of existing habitat types (Question 14)
If you determine that the project is such that it will not affect natural resources in these ways, then there is not likely to be any impact.
Unless the site is already cleared (such as in a suburb or urban area), many projects that are proposed on a "green" site will disturb at least some natural vegetation. This disturbance and loss of habitat will likely have some impact. In that case, you should evaluate whether this loss of habitat and natural vegetation is small, or moderate to large.
If the proposed project is likely to have an impact on natural resources, then this impact must be evaluated as to its size.
If there is an impact, how big will it be?
If there will be an impact, the reviewing agency must then evaluate the magnitude of that impact. This will depend on the overall scale and context of the proposed project as described in the Introduction to Part 2. The reviewing agency should be reasonable when conducting this review.
A small impact could occur if:
- A small part of the project site is impacted.
- The impact is isolated to the project site, is of minimal size, and does not affect adversely rare or unusual species, habitats, wetlands, waterbodies, or critical environmental areas.
- The impact does not affect any resource that is regulated (such as streams, wetlands, or lakes). For instance, a project site may have state regulated wetlands on it, but the parcel size may be so large that there will be no disturbance of the wetland.
- Air emissions will occur, but they are below the level at which they fall under regulatory control.
In these cases, check "no, or small impact may occur" on the Part 2 table.
Moderate to Large Impact
Moderate to large impacts may occur if:
- There will be a series of small impacts on more than one natural resource on the site. Projects that have many small impacts should be evaluated to determine if they cumulatively result in moderate to large impacts.
- The impact extends beyond the project site.
- Threatened or endangered plant or animal species, or unique habitats are known to exist on the site.
- There will be an impact to a resource that is of special value to the local community as identified in an open space or land use plan.
- A regulated resource exists on the project site and is going to be impacted. Or, a regulated resource exists on the project site and it also has ecological connections to the same resources off-site and it is going to be impacted. Projects that fragment a particular habitat (such as clearing land from large forest patches) or that sever connections (such as diverting a stream so that it changes a downstream wetland) may also be a moderate to large impact.
- You have already determined from Question 4 of Part 2 that there is likely to be a moderate to large impact on a critical environmental area.
- Groundwater resources could be impacted by pollution, excessive water withdrawal, alterations in flow, or new construction.
- Regulatory air emissions will occur at a level that requires a State Air Emissions Permit.
Recording your decision
If you have determined that there are no impacts, or that only a small impact may occur, no further analysis of this topic is needed. Simply check the box under "No, or small impact may occur" next to the question and move on to Question 10. You may choose to include an explanation in Part 3 as to why you decided there were no, or only small impacts, but you are not required to do so.
If you have determined that one or more moderate to large impacts may occur, then additional analysis of this impact will be required in Part 3. You should note what the impacts are, and the reasoning that lead to your decision before moving on to Question 10.
Scenario 1: An applicant seeks a use variance to build a 6,000 square foot non-residential structure on a parcel of land that had recently had a residence demolished and the site was planted to lawn.
- The parcel is at the edge of a developed area.
- It has public water and sewer.
- There are no steep slopes.
- It has no other vegetation or waterbodies.
Then: The Zoning Board has determined that there are no natural resources on the site that will be affected by issuing a use variance. Therefore, the ZBA determines that there will be no impact.
Scenario 2: A six-lot subdivision is proposed. (Be aware that in accordance with NYS Department of Health requirements, this subdivision may need to be treated as a Type 1 Action, or at minimum, require coordinated review.)
- The parcel of land is part of a larger forested area, 50 acres in size, located in a rural area.
- There are no wetlands, water bodies, endangered or threatened species, or critical environmental areas on or near the project site.
- One and 1/2 acres of forest will be removed to accommodate new homes, driveways, wells and septic systems, and lawns.
Then: The Planning Board determines that there will be an impact due to loss of forest habitats and displacement of local wildlife. However, they determine that this will be small in acreage, will not impact other parcels, does not impact rare, unique or threatened species or impact waterbodies, and therefore decide that this is a small impact.
Scenario 3: A commercial use that requires large water withdrawals for a light manufacturing process is proposed.
- The water source is from a well drilled in the same aquifer that serves a public water supply.
- It is adjacent to a regulated stream and wetland complex that has known endangered plants growing there.
Then: The Planning Board has identified multiple impacts to natural resources included fisheries, threatened plant species, and water resources. Therefore the Planning Board has determined that this will have moderate to large impacts.
Scenario 4: A ten-lot subdivision is proposed.
- The parcel of land contains a regulated stream known for trout spawning
- A wetland five acres in size exists in association with the stream
- The area has the same habitats as a nearby area identified by DEC as being a rare habitat for a wetland plant
- There are slopes in excess of 30 percent on over half of the parcel
- There are areas of shallow soil and exposed bedrock
- In order to access all ten lots, the stream will need to be crossed
Then: The Planning Board has identified multiple impacts to natural resources including changes to the stream vegetation and stream bank that could reduce trout spawning habitats, potential adverse impacts to a rare habitat, and impacts of erosion from the steep slopes into the stream. Therefore the Planning Board has determined that this may have moderate to large impacts.