Environmental Impact Review process and requirements
1. DEQ must forward comments to the Secretary of Administration within 60 calendar days following receipt of a completed environmental impact report. The coordinated review by state environmental agencies must take place within this time frame.
2. DEQ sets deadlines for comments from reviewing agencies and entities by determining the dates by which comments for EIRs are due. In most cases, about 30 days is available for reviewing agencies to review an EIR for a project and return their comments to DEQ.
3. Planning district commissions (PDCs) and localities may request additional review time, if necessary. In such cases, the reviewers must inform DEQ that they are unable to complete the review in the time available. The reviewer should provide some sense of the concerns of the PDC or the local government on the project in question. Depending on the issues related to the project, DEQ will modify its deadline (within the statutory 60-days), if possible, or frame its response so as to take account of the needs of the commenting entity.
Step 1. The proponent agency decides whether an EIR is required using criteria provided by DEQ. (See Form 1 in Appendix 1.) If agencies desire confirmation of their determination about the need for an EIR, the completed form should be sent to DEQ for review (email inquiries are encouraged). DEQ will respond in writing regarding whether an EIR is needed.
Step 2. The proponent agency prepares the EIR during the planning phase for the project.
Step 3. The proponent agency informs DEQ 30 days in advance of its intent to submit an EIR for review (optional).
It is suggested that DEQ be notified of an agency's intent to submit an EIR for review at least 30 days in advance of the submission in order to reschedule other commitments, if necessary. This helps to assure that comment deadlines can be met. A sample format for notifying DEQ of the intent to submit an EIR is contained in Appendix 1 (Form 2) of these procedures.
Step 4. DEQ responds within 15 days of notification, stating the required number of copies to be submitted. Proponent agencies must send a sufficient number of copies of the EIR to DEQ for coordinated review.
The proponent agency is responsible for furnishing the number of copies of an EIR needed for reviewing agencies as specified by DEQ (18 copies for most projects). The number of copies required depends on the number of reviewers needed for a particular project, but usually does not exceed 20.
If 18 copies are required, the proponent agency may submit 3 hardcopies and 15 electronic copies (CDs), or 3 hard copies and an accessible website, file transfer protocol (ftp) site or an electronic copy via VITAShare. If the proponent agency chooses to submit only hardcopies, one electronic copy is requested.
If the proponent agency prefers to await the preliminary determination of sufficiency of information discussed in Step 5, below, before sending additional copies, this may be arranged. However, the 60-day review period will not begin until the required number of complete documents is provided to DEQ.
Step 5. Upon receipt of the document, DEQ conducts a preliminary review of the EIR to ensure that basic information has been provided. If information is inadequate to satisfy the requirement of §10.1-1188, the document may be returned for additional information. If the EIR is complete, the 60-day review period commences, and DEQ circulates the EIR to reviewing agencies.
DEQ invites comments from interested agencies, planning district commissions, and localities. Where agencies or entities are interested in a project or have a responsibility related to a project proposal, DEQ will contact that agency for review and comment. In cases where the impacts of a project are likely to be insignificant and DEQ can effectively predict the types of responses it would get in a coordinated review, DEQ may do a "limited" coordination with selected agencies (localities are always included).
Public review of EIRs is not mandated for major state projects; however, DEQ may consider any information that it receives about the environmental effects of a project under review.
Review by localities is sought by DEQ pursuant to Virginia Code §15.2-2202, which requires that DEQ include localities in the EIR review process. The purpose of the distribution of an EIR to a locality is to allow the locality to evaluate the proposed project for environmental impact, consistency with the locality's comprehensive plan, local ordinances, and applicable laws and to provide the locality with the opportunity to comment. Comments from localities are considered substantially in the same manner as comments from state agencies. Also, DEQ includes the appropriate planning district commission in the review as a matter of operating policy. The location of the project and its effects determine which entities are invited to comment. For example, for a project that affects the flow of a river constituting a boundary between two counties and taking place in a third, DEQ will solicit comments from all three, as well as the affected planning district commission or commissions.
Step 6. Reviewing agencies use the EIR to assess the project and send comments to DEQ. Agencies may request a site visit or may inform DEQ of additional information requirements. DEQ staff, the proponent agency, and the reviewing agency agree on schedule revisions if additional time is required.
During the course of their review of a project, reviewing agencies may inform DEQ that sufficient information is not available to complete their review. DEQ, the reviewing agencies and the proponent agency will mutually agree on actions necessary to obtain the information and complete the review. A revised schedule for completion of DEQ's review may be required if the information request is substantial and reflects a lack of information in the original document.
The proponent agency may be required to commission or undertake any of the following studies:
- a wetland delineation,
- an archaeological survey;
- an architectural or historic structures survey;
- verification of the limits of Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas;
- a Water Quality Impact Assessment for any proposed land development activities in a Resource Protection Area;
- documentation showing that a site-specific Perennial Flow Determination has been carried out in order to determine whether water bodies on the development site have perennial flow and, if necessary, that Resource Protection Area boundaries have been adjusted accordingly on the site, based on the site evaluation findings.
- a survey for the presence or habitat of endangered, rare, or threatened species of wildlife, plants, or insects; and
- an environmental hazard inspection.
Step 7. DEQ receives the comments of reviewing agencies. Any conflicts between the comments of different agencies are settled with the concerned agencies. Using agency comments and its own analysis, DEQ prepares comments and recommendations about the proposed project.
Step 8. DEQ submits its comments on the project to the Secretary of Administration within the 60-day statutory review period (see Virginia Code §10.1-1189). Copies are provided to proponent agencies, appropriate reviewing/commenting agencies, the Department of Accounts, Department of Planning and Budget, and the Division of Engineering and Buildings. DEQ's comments are also available for public review at the DEQ - Division of Environmental Enhancement.
Step 9. The Governor authorizes or disapproves release of funds for a project. The Governor has delegated authority to the Secretary of Administration to approve or disapprove major state projects pursuant to Virginia Code §10.1-1190.
Step 10. DEQ or other agencies with permitting or oversight responsibilities may monitor project development to ensure that the design and mitigation commitments are carried out.
Monitoring is conducted in cooperation with the proponent agency, or in response to an emergency.
The Department of Accounts monitors state agencies' compliance with the law governing major state projects (Virginia Code §10.1-1188 through 10.1-1192) by requiring evidence of completion of EIR review. As indicated above, the DEQ provides this evidence by copy of its comments.