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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT (EIA)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a key instrument of European Union environmental policy. Since passage of the first EIA Directive in 1985 (Directive 85/337/EEC) both the law and the practice of EIA has evolved. An amending Directive was published in 1997 (Directive 97/11/EC). The European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 93 of 1999) transposed EU Directive 97/11/EC into Irish law. The primary objective of the EIA Directive is to ensure that projects, which are likely to have significant effects on the environment are subject to an assessment of their likely impacts.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process for anticipating the effects on the environment caused by a development. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the document produced as a result of that process.

There are 3 specific stages in the EIA process:

1. Screening: This stages establishes if an EIS will need to be prepared. The EIA regulations, together with other environmental criteria, set out the thresholds or sizes of certain classes of projects, which indicate if an EIS must be prepared. In addition to these thresholds, the competent authority can also require an EIA where a project is below the specified threshold. This usually arises where there is a likelihood of significant effects on the environment by reference to the nature or location of a project.

2. Scoping: Scoping identifies the issues and emphasis that are likely to be important during EIA and eliminates those that are not. During this phase, consultation with the competent authority, relevant Government departments, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local authorities, fisheries boards, non-governmental organisations, landowners, locals and other interested parties.

3. EIS Review: The EIS should be systematically organized to provide sections describing:

  • the Proposed Development
  • the Existing Environment
  • the Impacts of the Proposed Development
  • the Measures to Mitigate Adverse Impacts
  • a Non-Technical Summary

The existing environment and the impacts of the development are explained by reference to the possible impacts on a series of environmental topics:

  • Human Beings
  • Fauna and Flora
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Air
  • Climatic Factors
  • Landscape
  • Material Assets including the Architectural and Archaeological Heritage and Cultural Heritage
  • The Inter-Relationship between all of the `above.

AQUAFACT have been involved in numerous EIAs for various developments. Examples can be found here 

Appropriate Assessment (Natura Impact Assessment)

The obligation to undertake Appropriate Assessment (AA) derives from Articles 6(3) and 6(4) of the EU Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC), and both involve a number of steps and tests that need to be applied in sequential order. Article 6(3) is concerned with the strict protection of sites, while Article 6(4) is the procedure for allowing derogation from this strict protection in certain restricted circumstances.

 

Article 6(3) of the states:

‘Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.’

 

Article 6 (4) states that:

‘If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the [Natura 2000] site and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, Member States shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It shall inform the Commission of the compensatory measures adopted’.

 

In general terms, implicit in Article 6(3) is an obligation to put concern for potential effects on Natura 2000 sites at the forefront of every decision made in relation to plans and projects at all stages, including decisions to provide funding or other support.

 

The first test is to establish whether, in relation to a particular plan or project, Appropriate Assessment is required. This is termed AA screening. Its purpose is to determine, on the basis of a preliminary assessment and objective criteria, whether a plan or project, alone and in combination with other plans or projects, could have significant effects on a Natura 2000 site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. The precautionary principle must be applied; therefore, where significant effects are likely, uncertain or unknown at screening stage, AA will be required.

 

AA is a focused and detailed impact assessment of the implications of the plan or project, alone and in combination with other plans and projects, on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site in view of its conservation objectives. Data and information on the project and on the site and an analysis of potential effects on the site must be obtained and presented in a Natura Impact Statement (NIS). Ecological specialists are required to undertake the surveys, research and analysis, with input from other experts (e.g. hydrologists or engineers) as necessary to prepare the NIS. It is the responsibility of the proponent of the plan or project to have the NIS prepared for submission to the competent authority, i.e. the consent authority. Having satisfied itself that the Statement is complete and objective, the competent authority carries out the AA on the basis of the Statement and any other necessary information.


AQUAFACT follow the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's guidelines "Appropriate Assessment of Plans and Projects in Ireland Guidance for Planning Authorities" and the National Parks & Wildlife Service's guidance for "Marine Natura Impact Statements in Irish Special Areas of Conservation - A Working Document" when preparing all Appropriate Assessments.


AQUAFACT have been involved in numerous AAs for various developments. Examples can be found here