Content in an EIR report
A. The EIR must discuss five subjects specified by §10.1-1188
- The environmental impact of the project including the impact on wildlife habitat and impact on farm and forest lands pursuant to Virginia Code § 3.2-204 through §3.2-205;
- Adverse effects that cannot be avoided if the project is undertaken;
- Measures proposed to minimize the impact of the project;
- Alternatives to the proposed construction; and
- Irreversible environmental changes which would be involved in the project.
In order to clearly discuss the content required by law to be included in the EIR, DEQ recommends that the EIR document contain the sections which follow. However, the proponent agency may, at its discretion, depart from this format, provided the substance of each element enumerated in §10.1-1188 is included in the EIR.
1. Project identification and description.
The project should be given a title for easy identification. A contact person within the sponsoring (or proponent agency) should be indicated. If applicable and available at the time of submitting the EIR, capital budget appropriation data (agency code, project code, budget item, and the budget biennium) should be included. The location of the project must be clearly identified on a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map, or its equivalent, and a site plan. The EIR must fully describe the project and, in particular, aspects of the project that may cause direct or indirect environmental impacts. For example, it must discuss provisions for utilities such as existing and proposed facilities for providing potable water and wastewater treatment, including intake or outfall locations, expected additional demands, and facility capacities. Description of the site must be thorough and include information on existing or proposed storage tanks (number, capacities, spill prevention measures, and containment plans) as well as provide some history on previous use, prior fish kills, and petroleum releases in the project vicinity. The purpose of this section is to make the reviewer aware of what is being proposed, important design features, how the facility will be operated, and the purpose of the facility.
2. Affected environment.
This section should identify sensitive environmental features that may be affected by the project. The EIR should describe the land area, topography, and natural and physical features of the land. It should describe existing structures or facilities affected by the project. The EIR should also describe land uses on abutting or adjacent parcels, and on other parcels likely to be affected by the proposed facility. The discussion on land uses should include applicable regional plans and local ordinances (including those developed pursuant to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act) and plans such as locally-developed watershed management plans, comprehensive plan recommendation of the local jurisdiction for the property and surrounding areas (if available), and state and locally-adopted transportation plans. The purpose of this discussion is to establish baseline information for the impact analysis which follows and to identify features that require specific designs or that limit design alternatives.
The third section of the EIR should describe and analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the preferred project alternative. For example, in addition to direct impacts of soil loss at the project site, soil erosion can have adverse secondary impacts on wetlands off-site which result from downstream deposition of sediments. The discussion of impacts should also include impacts from activities related to the project, such as the use of pesticides or herbicides, the management of hazardous materials at the site, or handling of solid and hazardous waste generated at the site. The purpose of this section is to identify the environmental consequences of proceeding with the project. The identification of impacts is needed in order to properly weigh the costs of a project against its potential benefits and to evaluate needed mitigation measures. Potential impacts to significant resources should be considered and discussed for each of the project alternatives. Impacts should be discussed in measurable terms (acres, gallons per day, square feet, etc.) where possible. The discussion should include the environmental effects of the project that cannot be avoided if the project is to be built. Unavoidable impacts are those that remain after available mitigation measures have been included. Agencies proposing to construct or acquire land for major state facilities should indicate whether the proposal is consistent with applicable federal and state policies, applicable local ordinances and comprehensive plans. This section must identify and describe the resources present on sites of interest, and should evaluate how their use of the site may affect the resources listed below.
- Endangered, threatened, or rare plants, animals, or insects; (See the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information System at: http://www.vafwis.org/fwis.)
- Species of Greatest Conservation Need identified in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan, which can be found at: http://bewildvirginia.org;
- Significant habitat for terrestrial wildlife and birds (for instance, habitat for rare species, important breeding sites, or migratory stopovers);
- Other unique or important terrestrial vegetation (for instance, foraging areas, stands of mature forest, or wilderness study areas);
- Aquatic life: fisheries, vegetation (including submerged aquatic vegetation), benthic organisms, shellfish growing area; (If so, indicate whether the Virginia Department of Health has issued a shellfish condemnation notice for the subject waters.)
- Anadromous Fish use Areas, trout streams, and colonial waterbird nesting colonies;
- Historic structures, listed or eligible for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register or the National Register of Historic Places; (See Appendix 6 for guidance on the information that should be provided.)
- Archaeological sites; (See Appendix 6 for guidance on the information that should be provided.)
- Agricultural land, either prime or important (as defined by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or the local ordinance), or farming operations; (See Appendix 5 for characteristics to be considered.
- Forest land, including predominant tree species and any endangered, threatened, or rare tree species; (See Appendix 5 for characteristics to be considered.)
- Tidal and non-tidal wetlands (delineation may be required). The review of National Wetland Inventory (NWI) maps should always be used in conjunction with field observations for determining whether wetlands or other surface waters are present; and a wetland delineation may also be required;
- Streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds on or near the site. The EIR should include information about flow volumes (available at the Richmond office of the U. S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division or DEQ's Charlottesville Field Office) and water quality (available from DEQ's most recent biennial Section 305(b) Water Quality Assessment Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)). Stream segments with water quality problems can also be identified from DEQ's Section 303(d) list of impaired waters. Also, indicate whether stream segments at the site are protected by designated DEQ Special Water Quality Standards, or are located within identified trout waters; report any record of prior fish kills or petroleum releases in the project vicinity. The status of the waterbody under the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Nonpoint Source Assessment should be documented;
- Watersheds of significant importance for public water supplies (such as wellhead protection zones, or watershed protection zones designated by local ordinance). Where watershed management plans have been (or are being) developed by localities, the EIR should acknowledge the existence of these planning efforts;
- Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas, to include, but not limited to, a site plan or map showing the limits of Resource Protection Areas and/or Resource Management Areas and the proximity of these features to any proposed structures or planned land disturbance on the project site; (See Appendix 7 concerning the type of information that is necessary.)
- Virginia Coastal Resources Management Area (Tidewater); (See Appendix 8 for a list of the Enforceable and Advisory Policies of Virginia’s Coastal Program.)
- The 100-year Floodplain; (Construction of state-owned buildings in the 100-year floodplain must comply with Executive Memorandum 2-97 concerning the floodplain policies and requirements for state agencies.)
- Ground water characteristics (the types of aquifers present; wells on or near the property that draw water from the aquifer). If ground water withdrawal is proposed, indicate whether the project site is located within a State Water Control Board designated Ground Water Management Area and if anticipated withdrawal will exceed 300,000 gallons of water in any month. The total volume of water to be withdrawn, both monthly and annually, should be clearly documented;
- All parks and other recreation areas (federal, local, state, or private) near the project site including, but not limited to, recreation and open space resources identified by the Virginia Outdoors Plan (Department of Conservation and Recreation); if applicable, provide information on public access to the shoreline and waterways;
- Important natural areas (for instance, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, important natural areas identified by public agencies, and important private conservation areas);
- Important scenery and scenic resources (for instance, views of important landmarks or natural features);
- Air quality; (This section may include a discussion of how the construction or operation of the facility will cause air pollution emissions and how fugitive dust will be controlled, and indicate whether open burning activities will occur and if the project site is located within (i) a nonattainment area for criteria pollutants such as ozone, (ii) a state designated Volatile Organic Compound and/or Nitrogen Oxides Emissions Control area, (iii) a Prevention of Significant Deterioration Area, or (iv) 10 kilometers of a federally designated Class 1 (pristine) area.)
- Geology and mineral resources, caves, and sinkholes, including identification of site-specific geologic and mineral resources from data and maps at an appropriate scale; and
- Other important resources such as designated scenic rivers, Virginia Byways, and important natural communities.
This section should discuss alternatives to the project, or why no alternatives were considered. The alternatives discussion should explore whether there are other ways to achieve the purpose that will be served by the project.
The EIR should demonstrate consideration and analysis of the environmental impacts of the alternatives, as well as the program and fiscal impacts to the agency. Where adverse environmental impacts of the preferred alternative are likely to be severe, controversial, or unacceptable, the alternatives analysis will be more important to the project review.
Identification of alternatives should not be limited to site selection. There are four types of possible alternatives:
- Alternative sites. A discussion of alternative sites is essential if land is to be acquired, or if the preferred site is environmentally sensitive or controversial.
- Alternative designs on the proposed site. Site plans can sometimes be revised to avoid impacts on resources on or near the parcel. This often helps to reduce environmental impacts to acceptable levels.
- Alternative methods of operation, including more efficient uses of the proposed facility.
- No-action alternative. The no-action alternative means not pursuing the project. This alternative must be considered even if the proponent agency thinks it is undesirable.
5. Mitigation (measures to avoid or minimize environmental impacts).
The proponent agency must discuss measures that avoid or minimize the environmental impacts of the preferred alternative (mitigation). The purpose of this discussion is to identify, for reviewers, actions that can reduce or compensate for loss of environmental resources. Reviewers will consider whether the proposed mitigation is sufficient to avoid or make up for adverse impacts. Extra mitigation effort is warranted if the environmental impacts of the project are severe and unavoidable.
Mitigation measures in the state project development process are not limited to those which may be required as permit conditions. In certain instances, the application of other state policies may warrant that state agencies exceed permit requirements in carrying out their responsibilities. For example, the EIR must incorporate the Commonwealth's pollution prevention policy pursuant to the Code of Virginia §10.1-1425.11. This policy establishes an environmental protection hierarchy, with pollution prevention as the most desirable environmental management option. Other options include, in descending order of preference, reduction of waste at the source, reuse, recycle, treatment, and disposal in an environmentally sound manner. Based on House Joint Resolution 453 passed in 1995, capital projects should be coordinated with ongoing pollution prevention planning activities and constructed in accordance with pollution prevention principles.
In preparing their EIR, proponent agencies are encouraged to include mitigation as part of the project design. Discussion of other actions that the agency has considered, even though they were rejected, should be included. This provides further evidence of the agency's effort to avoid significant environmental impacts. DEQ encourages proponent agencies to clearly present their mitigation commitments, including:
- mitigation measures to which the proponent agency is willing to commit; and
- measures that the proponent agency has considered but does not intend to pursue. (This helps the reviewing agencies avoid duplicating analysis that has already been performed.)
Innovative pollution prevention strategies and conservation methods promoting low- impact development should be incorporated in the design of new facilities. The following examples are features which should be considered:
- Heavy construction equipment must be properly tuned, maintained, and fueled with a low sulfur content diesel fuel to reduce emissions;
- Construction areas should be watered frequently to reduce dust and construction activities should be suspended during high winds;
- Non-toxic paints, stains, and preservatives and chemical-free carpeting should be used;
- Stations to recycle materials such as paper, cardboard, aluminum, and plastics should be incorporated. In addition to collecting recyclable materials, recycled goods should be procured to help stimulate marketing of these products;
- Use innovative stormwater management techniques such as rain gardens, infiltration swales and stormwater wetlands;
- The use of herbicides or pesticides for landscape maintenance should be in accordance with the principles of integrated pest management. The least toxic pesticides that are effective in controlling the target species should be used. In ozone non-attainment or maintenance areas, the use of pesticides or herbicides that contain volatile organic compounds, should be curtailed, substituted with an alternative product free of volatile organic compounds, or scheduled outside of the ozone season.
- Grounds should be landscaped with hardy native plant species to conserve water as well as lessen the need to use fertilizers and pesticides.
- Low-flow toilets should be installed in new facilities.
Energy-efficient heating and cooling, proper building insulation, and the use of energy-efficient lighting should be incorporated in the design of new facilities. The liberal use of native species of trees in landscaping can also help to reduce cooling costs.
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit organization that certifies sustainable buildings. USGBC has developed the LEED Green Building Rating System for evaluating sustainable concepts incorporated in the building and site development. LEED addresses all building types and emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality. The Department of General Services, Division of Engineering and Buildings (DEB), encourages state agencies and their architectural and engineering designers to recognize and incorporate the energy, environmental, and sustainability concepts listed in the LEED Green Building Rating System into the development and procurement of their projects. For more information on the LEED rating system visit: http://www.leedbuilding.org.
- Incorporation of DEB NOTICE 1232006 – LEED – effective 1/23/06.
- Incorporation of Governor’s Executive Order 2007 No. 48, dated 4/5/07 – Energy Efficiency in State Government, which in part reads “All agencies and institutions constructing state-owned facilities over 5,000 square feet in size……..shall be designed and constructed consistent with the energy performance standards at least as stringent as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system (including the use of Virginia forest products with alternate certification) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Energy’s “Energy Star” rating.”
DEQ's comments and recommendations about a project's impact are based on the mitigation commitments stated in the EIR. DEQ may recommend against proposed measures that are not necessary or effective or may propose additional or substitute measures. The Secretary of Administration may condition project approval on the commitments of the proponent agency and additional recommendations by DEQ.
The desirability of a mitigation measure is determined by its effectiveness in reducing or avoiding an adverse environmental impact or otherwise enhancing environmental values. From most desirable to least, mitigation includes:
- Avoiding an impact. This is most useful where the project will give rise to irretrievable loss of a resource in short supply (e.g., non-tidal wetlands) and where the alternatives analysis identifies feasible site-plan alternatives. It is the best form of mitigation.
- Reducing impacts in scale or type. If an adverse impact cannot be avoided, it should be minimized (for instance, paved areas may be reduced in size, or a conventional pavement replaced by porous pavement in order to minimize stormwater runoff).
- Compensating for lost resources or land area. Where there is no way to avoid or reduce the loss of an important resource, and compensation is achievable, then it should be included in the project proposal. Compensation includes replacement in a new location; preservation of other, similar resources (offsets); or preservation of other resources of similar value. If compensation is the chosen alternative, then safety factors should be considered (for example, creation of additional wetlands to offset the loss) in order to ensure effective function and value of the lost resource. For some resources, compensation is possible; for others, it is not. There are no accepted ways, for example, to compensate for the loss of an acre of farmland or an historic structure.
Mitigation supplements, but does not substitute for, innovative resource conservation measures on the part of state agencies. As a general rule, agencies are encouraged to include resource conservation as integral parts of their project plans. For instance, recycling of materials as a part of project operation is expected of all state agencies and does not qualify as mitigation.
6. Irreversible environmental changes.
The final section of the EIR, the discussion of irreversible environmental changes, is an opportunity to demonstrate understanding of the long-term impacts, if any, of the project's construction and use. This section should indicate whether the project will cause a permanent impact on air quality or water quality, or whether it will consume significant land and water resources, or whether it will generate other demands on the natural resources of the immediate or surrounding area. Losses of significant resources, such as historic or archaeological sites, should be identified, as well.
Examples of irreversible environmental changes that should be identified:
- reduction or alteration of the flow of water in a stream or river;
- disturbance or destruction of archaeological sites;
- disturbance, destruction or alteration of a wetland, in any way;
- permanent clearing or construction within a scenic area.
1. Preparation of the EIR document should reflect the nature of the project proposal and limitations of information available. Where land acquisition for facility construction is proposed and site design information is not available, an initial EIR should be prepared to facilitate environmental review of the site selection (Part 1), and a follow-up EIR should be prepared for the development of the site (Part 2).
Where no acquisition is proposed, a single document that provides requisite information about the selected site and the proposed design is sufficient. (See discussion of Part 2 on pages 26-28.)
2. PART 1: Information for Site Selection or Site Acquisition
A. A Part 1 EIR should evaluate the selection or acquisition of a site. Part 1 allows agencies to evaluate the suitability of alternative sites for the proposed facility. Environmental liabilities and sensitive resources can be identified early, and the cost of mitigation strategies (to avoid or reduce impacts, or to avoid or clean up hazards) can be assessed in selecting the best site. The DEQ review focuses on whether agencies have selected and evaluated alternative sites, and on whether agencies have conducted accurate analyses of their preferred sites and incorporated those analyses into their purchase decision.
B. Part 1 of the EIR must be submitted in sufficient time to allow review and comment before a purchase contract is signed. This part of the EIR should demonstrate that the proposed site is suitable for the proposed use. The material submitted should provide a clear concept of the project that is proposed, environmental criteria that were used in the selection process, and characteristics of the property that constrain or enhance its use for the intended purpose. Part I of the EIR should include:
1. Project justification (from the Planning or Capital Budget Proposal);
2. Alternatives to construction of facility; (If an analysis of alternatives was prepared for the Capital Project Request, it should be included in Part I of the EIR.)
3. Description of the proposed facility in as much detail as known at this stage, including:
a. Description of the facility design concept; (Describe needed site clearing/leveling, the size and height of buildings, location of roads, location of parking lots, outdoor lighting, proposed landscaping, type of construction and materials, planned starting date and duration of construction, etc.)
b. Planned use and scope of action; (Describe the nature of activities that will be conducted on the property and the anticipated volume of activity and resource impacts - for instance, water consumption, traffic generation, wastewater discharge, air emissions, etc.) and
c. Typical or proposed site layout (include a sketch plan of how the facility would be laid out on the proposed site).
4. Site selection criteria (should be developed and presented according to requirements for the Planning Study for Capital Requests that is prepared by the Department of Planning and Budget);
5. Alternative sites considered; (DEQ recommends that at least three sites within the facility's service area be evaluated and compared, and reasons demonstrated for selecting the preferred site.)
6. A map and description of the physical characteristics of the preferred site, including:
a. Current use, structures, infrastructure, and improvements on proposed and surrounding parcels (include site survey);
b. Topography of the site and surrounding area (include topographic map);
c. Physical features of site, including vegetation, rock outcrops, streams, rivers, wetlands, and other surface water; soil types; and other resources of concern listed on pages 16-19;
d. All constraints to site design including local building restriction lines, highway setback lines, easements, covenants, reservations, and right-of-ways of record; and
e. Parcel size and shape (include site survey plat).
7. Proof that a competent environmental hazards inspection of the proposed site has been performed, along with a report on the findings of that inspection. Agencies may wish to contact DEQ-Division of Land Protection and Revitalization (formerly DEQ Waste Division) for assistance in conducting or contracting for a hazards inspection;
8. A map and description of sensitive features of the proposed site that would be affected by the proposed project. The accurate depiction of resources that will be affected by proposed facility development is needed to determine the feasibility of alternative designs and mitigation measures as the project proceeds. Showing a general location is often sufficient when the resources are present on the property but are not within the likely area of project impact;
9. Unavoidable adverse impacts if the concept facility is developed on the preferred site. The EIR should discuss how the design concept, construction and planned use will alter existing site characteristics and resources. Examples include:
a. Changes in flow and quality of stormwater runoff that will adversely affect existing streams, rivers, wetlands, or other surface waters; and
b. Existing structures to be altered or demolished. (If demolition is contemplated, a separate demolition review is required by the Division of Engineering and Buildings, including screening for asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint. If it is contemplated in order to make room for the project under review, the demolition review information should be part of the EIR);
10. Conflicts between the proposed action and local plans or zoning ordinances that apply to the area; and
11. Proposed mitigation for unavoidable impacts (mitigation proposals are conceptual at this point, and will be implemented in site design and verified during the Part 2 EIR review).
3. PART 2: Information for Design and Construction
A. An environmental review of the site design (Part 2) helps agencies to evaluate the specific impacts imposed on sensitive resources and assess the success of alternative mitigation strategies in reducing project impacts. DEQ's review focuses on assuring that agencies have incorporated applicable environmental policies into their facility designs.
B. Where a Part 1 EIR has already been prepared to accommodate land purchase, the Part 2 review ensures that the facility design conforms to environmental constraints already identified on the selected site. Part 2 provides the proponent agency with the opportunity to demonstrate that it has evaluated and adopted reasonable design and mitigation alternatives consistent with the Commonwealth's environmental policies.
C. The Part 2 report should be based on preliminary design drawings, if possible, or on the conceptual drawings of the planning study. Preparation of the report and DEQ's review should occur before the final site design is completed. DEQ's review will focus on whether the report accurately describes unavoidable environmental impacts and on the proponent agency's commitment to avoid or reduce those impacts. DEQ may also recommend additional measures to avoid or reduce adverse impacts if appropriate and if the benefits of the additional measures outweigh the costs to carry them out. Information needed for the Part 2 review includes:
1. The Part 1 report and supporting material, along with DEQ's prior comments on the site acquisition proposal, if any. If the project is part of a master plan for which an EIR has been prepared, that EIR should be included, as well;
2. Discussion of any conditions imposed by the Governor or General Assembly that affect or relate to environmental performance;
3. Identification of environmental resources adversely affected by the proposed design; (See section on affected resources on pages 16-19 under Impacts of the Project.)
4. Alternative designs or actions to avoid or reduce the loss of environmental resources, including those reflected in the proposed design, as well as those rejected due to cost or technical infeasibility. If no alternatives were considered, the report should discuss why they were omitted; and
5. A preliminary site plan that shows the following:
- slopes greater than 15%,
- existing storm drainage systems,
- natural and artificial watercourses,
- Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Areas and Resource Management Areas, where applicable,
- limits of the 100-year floodplain,
- limits of any wetlands on the site,
- location and limits of major soil categories,
- the location, dimension, size, and height of the following elements of the project, in as much detail as available, including:
- sidewalks, streets, alleys, easements, and utilities;
- existing and proposed buildings and structures;
- off-street parking facilities;
- on-site sewage treatment/disposal systems and sanitary sewer lines, on-site water supply systems or public water mains and hydrants;
- slopes, terraces, retaining walls;
- proposed storm drainage systems;
- finish grading (two-foot contour interval within 100 feet of all buildings and maximum five-foot contour interval on remainder of property);
- outdoor lighting;
- shore stabilization structures.