By Rebecca Martin
Today, the Final Scope is due to be delivered to the applicant (GlidePath) by the Lead Agency (Town of Ulster Town Board) in the proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center, a gas-fired power plant in the Town of Ulster. Hundreds of comments were submitted over the course of 50 days, and we anticipate a copy of the Final Scope to review and to share to our readers when we do.
In the meantime, here is a 30,000-foot view of the next steps in the SEQR process to help citizens to plan. We, of course, will continue to break each step down to the best of our ability as they occur.
NEXT STEPS IN SEQR
The proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center, a gas-fired power plant in the Town of Ulster
REVIEW: Follow along and learn more detail by reading “The SEQR Handbook”
1. FINAL SCOPE. The Final Scope is created by the Lead Agency to be delivered to the applicant, Involved Agencies and the public on Monday, April 2nd, 2018.
At the Lead Agency’s discretion, comments that were submitted during the Draft Scope public comment period (February 1 – March 22) may be found in the Final Scope.
What if my comments are not represented in the Final Scope?
Commenters can submit a written statement of anything missing from the Final Scope to the Lead Agency. At the applicant’s discretion, they may be included in the DEIS.
2. DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) is released. The DEIS is the “primary source of environmental information to help involved agencies consider environmental concerns in making decisions about a proposed action. The draft also provides a basis for public review of, and comment on, an action’s potential environmental effects. The DEIS accomplishes those goals by examining the nature and extent of identified potential environmental impacts of an action, as well as steps that could be taken to avoid or minimize adverse impacts.”
- The DEIS is based on the Final Scope and prepared by the applicant.
- There is no set time-frame for when the DEIS is delivered to the Lead Agency.
- Once the DEIS is released to the Lead Agency, they will have forty-five (45) days to determine its adequacy before either releasing it to the public or returning it to the applicant for further review.
If the Lead Agency Deems the DEIS as INADEQUATE:
If the Lead Agency determines any part of the DEIS as inadequate, it is sent back to the applicant, “…specifying the reasons for its unacceptability.”
- There is no time-frame for when it is to be further revised and returned to the Lead Agency.
- Upon its return, the Lead Agency has thirty (30) days to review the resubmitted DEIS to again determine whether or not it is adequate. There is no maximum time, however, for public comment and Lead Agency consideration of the DEIS.
- “The SEQR regulations place no limit on rejections of a submitted draft EIS, other than requiring that the lead agency must identify the deficiencies in writing to the project sponsor”
If the Lead Agency Deems the DEIS as ADEQUATE:
The Lead Agency must prepare and file a “Notice of Completion” to announce that it has accepted the DEIS and open the public review and comment period. A copy of the DEIS, must be filed with the appropriate DEC regional office, and with the involved agencies.
- The minimum public review period is thirty (30) days calculated from the filing date of the “Notice of Completion”.
What can the public request once the DEIS is released?
“The public may request a longer public comment period at this time as well as a public hearing, although public hearings are optional under SEQR. Lead Agency determines public hearings according to SEQR in the following ways.
- 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 DEIS.”
3. FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement). “The Lead Agency is responsible for the adequacy and accuracy of the FEIS. The applicant may be requested to prepare draft responses to some or all of the substantive comments received on a DEIS. However, Lead Agency must still review any responses prepared by the applicant to ensure that the analyses and conclusions accurately represent the lead agency’s assessment. The Lead Agency may need to edit a sponsor’s draft responses. The Lead Agency may also consult with other involved agencies, or with outside consultants, but this in no way reduces the responsibility of the Lead Agency for the final product.”
SEQR does not require a public hearing or comment period on the FEIS. “Interested parties or agencies may choose to submit comments on a final EIS to clarify points made earlier, or to identify comments that have not been satisfactorily responded to in the final EIS. These comments could influence the lead agency, or other involved agencies, in making findings and taking final actions.”
There is such a thing as a “supplemental EIS” that “provides an analysis of one or more significant adverse environment impacts which were not addressed, or inadequately addressed, in a draft or final EIS. A supplemental EIS may also be required to analyze the site-specific effects of an action previously discussed in a generic EIS.” This is nothing to pay mind to now, but if necessary, it is a tool for further study.
4. FINDINGS. The preparation of written SEQR findings is required by the SEQR regulations for any action that has been the subject of a FEIS and are made by ALL Involved Agencies.
“A findings statement is a written document, prepared following acceptance of a FEIS, 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.”
When the action is not approved.
If the action cannot be approved based on analyses in the FEIS, a negative findings statement must be prepared, documenting the reasons for the denial.
When the action is approved.
“A positive findings statement means that, after consideration of the FEIS, 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.
Each involved agency, not only the lead agency, must prepare its own SEQR findings following acceptance of a FEIS. 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 FEIS.”
When findings differ between 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.”