Section 4: Environmental Documentation and Clearance

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Environmental documentation for state or federal clearances should be customized to adequately address the nature, scope and complexity of the individual transportation project. The following are the CEQ’s general guidelines for compiling NEPA environmental documentation. The text should:

  • be analytical rather than encyclopedic
  • show why more study is not warranted
  • offer a brief discussion, except for significant issues
  • offer concise and plain language, incorporating graphics and tables where appropriate
  • reduce emphasis on background material
  • emphasize decision-making issues and assess impact rather than justify decisions
  • incorporate references to data or reports that are readily available into document
  • combine environmental documentation with other documentation where appropriate.

It is inappropriate to include all information used to assess the potential for encountering hazardous material contamination and difficult to do so while maintaining a concise environmental document.

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General Requirements for Hazardous Material Discussions

All projects should be assessed for possible hazardous materials involvement; any required environmental documentation should include a discussion about hazardous materials, even if no concerns are found. This discussion should provide sufficient evidence that the project was adequately investigated for known or possibly unknown hazardous material contamination within the proposed project limits. The following are general guidelines for hazardous material discussions:

  • describe types and/or scopes of site assessments and/or investigations conducted
  • state who performed the site assessments and/or investigations
  • disclose any limitations of the site assessments or investigations
  • discuss whether further investigation is needed
  • provide justification for any postponement or dispensing of further investigation
  • summarize the findings of the site assessments or investigations for each alternative considered
  • discuss any early coordination or consultation with the regulatory agencies, local entity or property owners
  • justify avoiding or not avoiding known or suspected hazardous material contamination within the preferred alternative or corridor alignment
  • summarize efforts to avoid or minimize involvement with known or suspected hazardous material contamination sites during construction
  • disclose known or suspected hazardous material contamination that is expected to be encountered during construction
  • discuss any required special considerations, contingencies or provisions to handle known or suspected hazardous material contamination during right-of-way negotiation and acquisition, property management, design and/or construction
  • discuss any required further coordination, approvals, permits and site closure with the regulatory agencies.

Example language for different scenarios to be used as guidance, but not as standard paragraphs, is provided in Hazardous Materials in Project Development: Environmental Site Assessments.

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Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)

In addition to the general requirements above, the following are the FHWA Interim Guidelines for documentation to be compiled for a DEIS:

  • a map clearly delineating the extent of the site in relation to alternative project alignments
  • the number and types of sites or structures, extent of contamination and alternative treatment or disposal measures
  • the results of coordination with EPA, state/local agencies and the public
  • a description of previous plans, if any, for cleanup of the sites
  • sufficient information to allow a reasonable evaluation of alternatives
  • justification for not avoiding the site.
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Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)

Additional investigations, called preliminary site investigations per AASHTO or Phase II ESA per ASTM, should be completed before circulating the FEIS. Results of these investigations may help to determine the impact on a project alternative and provide estimates of the extent of contamination and cost of preventive action during construction. The results of these investigations should be presented in the FEIS.

In addition to the general requirements discussed above, the following is a list of items required in FEIS documentation, according to FHWA Interim Guidelines for the preferred alternative:

  • a description of the results of continuing coordination with EPA, state/local agencies and the public
  • documentation of the resolution of hazardous material issues to the extent possible
  • a detailed description of the site(s), contamination, agreed upon treatment or disposal measures and costs of the remedial plan to the extent possible.
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Supplemental EIS and Re-Evaluation Documents

A DEIS or FEIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS should be supplemented if changes to the project can result in significant environmental impacts not already evaluated in the EIS, or if new information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns might result in significant environmental impacts not already evaluated in the EIS. Depending upon the length of time taken to complete project development, state and federal “findings of no significant impact (FONSI)” projects may also require re-evaluation documentation. Items to accompany any required supplemental EIS or re-evaluation documents include:

  • a summary of new findings
  • status of any further investigation
  • coordination with regulatory agencies or property owners during right-of-way negotiation and acquisition
  • facility or site closure
  • corrective action
  • any plans to handle contamination or hazardous materials during construction.
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Environmental Review and Clearance

If contamination is identified prior to construction and provisions are made to handle the contamination according to applicable regulations and/or coordinated with applicable regulatory agencies, the project should not have a significant impact on the environment. However, due to high costs of hazardous material contamination involvement, possible or known concerns may affect the decision-making and alignment selection processes.

ENV reviews the environmental document to evaluate whether sufficient research or disclosure has been provided regarding the potential for encountering hazardous material contamination within the proposed project limits. Any required permits, coordination with regulatory agencies or special considerations for hazardous material contamination must be disclosed. If disclosure does not appear to be sufficient, revisions or clarifications must be made before the documentation can be submitted to FHWA or approved to proceed with the next stages of project development.

If the ISA does not reveal any involvement with hazardous materials, the document is approved and the project can proceed to the next stages of project development. If concerns are revealed, the project can still be approved with the understanding that commitments for the project will be followed throughout the next stages of project development and construction.

Commitments for further investigation, approvals, permits and coordination regarding hazardous materials should be summarized in approval and clearance letters. Copies of the environmental document and approval/clearance letters should be forwarded to appropriate right-of-way, design and construction staff.

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