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Environmental Impact Assessments in Florida

Environmental impact assessments (EIS), also called environmental assessment (EA), assess the potential social, environmental, and economic impact of a potential project.  The purpose of an EIA is to ensure that decision-makers consider the potential consequences of their actions before deciding whether or not to proceed with a project.  EIAs are usually required for large projects that may have significant environmental impacts.  The specific requirements for conducting environmental impact assessments may vary, but usually, an EIA must be carried out before the project can be approved and implemented.

Understanding Florida's Regulatory Framework

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) protects, conserves, and manages Florida's natural resources and enforces the state's environmental laws. DEP oversees and manages Florida's 175 state parks, more than 12 million acres of public lands, and 4 million acres of coastal uplands and submerged lands.  The Environmental Assessment and Restoration is a division of the DEP that monitors and assesses Florida’s surface water and groundwater quality to identify pollution problems and develop strategies to resolve them.

Identifying Key Environmental Concerns

The first step in scoping is to identify the key issues that need to be addressed in the environmental impact assessments.  This may involve identifying the potential impacts of the project on different aspects of the environment, as well as the potential social and economic impacts of the project.  The top five key concerns are generally socio-economic impacts, the impact on vegetation, the impact on water resources, construction-related noise pollution, and visual impact.

The next step is to determine the level of detail that is required in the EIA. This may involve deciding which impacts need to be analyzed in more detail and which impacts can be analyzed more broadly.

Based on the key issues and the level of detail required, the next step is to identify the appropriate methods and resources that will be used to gather and analyze information. This may involve choosing specific data collection methods (such as field surveys or laboratory analyses), and deciding which experts or specialists will be consulted during the EIA process.

Conducting Thorough Environmental Impact Assessments

Conducting a thorough EIA will help identify, avoid, and mitigate environmental and social risks.  The EIA will also help enhance the benefits of sustainable development.  Here are some of the best practices when conducting a thorough EIA:

Specify Scope and Objectives

The scope and objectives should specify the spatial and temporal boundaries, the environmental aspects, the level of detail, and the methods and criteria for the analysis.

Perform a Baseline Study

A baseline study involves collecting and analyzing relevant data on the existing environmental and social conditions of the affected area.  This study should provide a detailed and accurate snapshot of the current situation, including the natural resources, the ecosystem services, the human activities, the cultural values, and the potential impacts of climate change.

Assess the Alternatives and Impacts

This assessment considers the direct, indirect, cumulative, and synergistic efforts of each option on the environment and society.  It also considers the opportunities and trade-offs for enhancing or reducing the impacts.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholders can be the public, the authorities, the proponents, the experts, and other affected parties.  Stakeholder involvement should be meaningful, inclusive, transparent, and participatory.  Stakeholder engagement should take place throughout the assessment process, and the goal is to inform and collaborate.  Ideal engagement should also address the stakeholders’ concerns, expectations, and feedback.

Create the Environmental Impact Assessments Report

The report is the main document that summarizes and communicates the findings and recommendations of the EIA.  This EIA report should be clear, concise, and comprehensive.  It should cover the scope and objectives, the baseline study, the alternatives and impacts, and the stakeholder involvement, as well as the conclusions.  The EIA report needs to be supported by proper evidence, references,  and appendices.

Best Practices for Compliance Monitoring

Compliance monitoring is a process to ensure that an organization complies with the necessary rules, regulations, policies, laws, and standards that the organization has in place.  When it comes to an EIA, compliance monitoring should combine terrestrial, aquatic, and hydrogeological disciplines with high-quality data management to give you valuable information to make strategic operating decisions and manage your environmental risks, all while meeting your compliance and assessment requirements.

Putting it All Together

Designing a project to meet a myriad of local and federal requirements can be daunting.  I’m Rob Robinson and I can help you relieve this burden.  I am experienced with the laws relating to the key areas in the EIA process, including protected species, air and water quality, coastal development, and cultural and historic preservation.  I can help you address all the necessary issues within the EIA.

I will work closely with your consulting engineers and other specialists to prepare a comprehensive environmental plan.  I am also available to review the work of others, as well as represent you before the various governmental agencies.  For practical solutions to all types of EIA issues, please contact my office.

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