Identifying an acceptable alternative

The assessment process may reveal that a facility will be located within a 100-year floodplain or hinder the viewshed (the area visible from a fixed vantage point) of an adjacent historic district. When an impact is identified, the assessment should evaluate and determine the alternative that most minimizes or eliminates severity — including “No Action”; i.e., not constructing the project.

Developing appropriate mitigation strategies may require consulting with FEMA and DHS or the affected state or federal agency. In some cases, your department may have to sign a memorandum of agreement or memorandum of understanding with the agency. Typical strategies include:

  • Buying into a wetland bank
  • Constructing the project above the floodplain
  • Facilitating historic property preservation or eligibility studies
  • Recreating species habitat or constructing the project in a “species-friendly” manner.

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Concern for the endangered Myotis sodalis (a.k.a. the Indiana Bat) has increased scrutiny of federally funded projects throughout the East Coast and into the Midwest. Photo: Ron Fields

If the assessment addresses the impact properly and provides a solution that eliminates or satisfactorily minimizes the impact, FEMA and DHS will issue a FONSI and construction may proceed.

If, however, the impact cannot be properly or satisfactorily mitigated with the proposed action, the agencies may require an EIS or deny the project outright. If that happens, discuss alternatives directly with the agencies. At all costs, avoid the request for an EIS; they're inherently expensive and mind-numbingly long and arduous.

You can develop and complete an assessment on your own, but because of its complexity most applicants contract with a consultant that has the knowledge and resources to tackle the required environmental studies. Either way, take a look at the costs and time-lines in the table above when considering funding your emergency communication facility through a Homeland Security grant. If they conflict with your schedules or exceed your available budgets, you might be better off pursuing other sources such as state-funded programs, which in general don't require the detailed environmental studies necessary for federal funds.

— Duncan (jaduncan@terracon.com) is environmental department manager and a principal in the Nashville, Tenn., office of the engineering firm Terracon.

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENTS: TIMELINES AND COSTS

What: Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)

Who: Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency

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In some cases, HSGP funding can be used to offset the costs of an environmental assessment. The following estimates will vary depending on the project, federal requirements, and local regulations, but they provide a starting point for determining whether applying for a grant would be worth your time and effort.

EIS (environmental impact statement)

It's difficult to provide an estimate, but not uncommon for this arduous task to take 10 years and $100,000 to complete. That's why we recommend doing whatever's necessary to avoid one.