The Downtown Estes Loop Environmental Assessment (EA) is currently expected to be released by the end of June. The EA release will be announced with a news release and the document will be provided on the project website and via hard copies at public facilities. Public presentations of the EA information will also be announced. Public comments will be encouraged from the date of release through the full month of July. Throughout this period, comments will be accepted via written comment form and the project website, and at the public hearing, which is expected to take place in mid- to late-July. A complete listing of opportunities to learn about the EA and methods for commenting on the study will be provided when the document is released.
What is an Environmental Assessment (EA)?
An EA is one type of document prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA, signed into law on January 1, 1970, established a national policy to protect the environment. Federal agencies are required to integrate the NEPA process into other planning processes to ensure that planning and decisions consider environmental values. Regulations for implementing NEPA established by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) require that federal agencies document their consideration of environmental values and provide opportunity for public involvement.
Under NEPA, an EA describes the effects that a federal action would have on the environment. An EA also describes the impacts of alternatives and identifies ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts. The potential for both beneficial and adverse impacts must be considered.
The Environmental Assessment Process
Essential elements of the NEPA process include:
- Public & Agency Scoping
- Purpose & Need
- Alternatives Development
- Impacts Analysis
- Mitigation Development
- Prepare Environmental Assessment
- Decision Document
Public & Agency Scoping: This is a public process used to share information about a proposed action, refine the purpose and need for the action, consider alternatives that would address the project’s purpose and need, and to identify potential environmental impacts that should be addressed as part of the process. Information from the public and agency scoping process is considered by the project team, made part of the project’s administrative record and is summarized in the NEPA document (EA).
Purpose & Need: The project purpose and need identifies why the project is needed and why it is needed now. Transportation project needs often involve safety, capacity, access and mobility. A project’s purpose and need is defined through information gathered before, during and after public scoping meetings. A chapter in the EA is dedicated to the purpose and need of a project.
Alternatives Development: NEPA involves consideration of a range of alternatives that will address a project’s purpose and need. One or more “build” alternatives is analyzed in an EA, along with a “No Build” or “No Action” Alternative. The initial set of alternatives are screened to determine which ones fully address the project’s purpose and need and provide enough information for anticipated decisions. Alternatives are summarized and presented in detail in the EA.
Impact Analysis: Potential social, environmental and economic effects are addressed in a NEPA document. Impacts on transportation, noise, air quality, wildlife, and other issues are analyzed in a NEPA document.
Mitigation Development: Mitigation measures avoid, minimize, or reduce adverse impacts. The development of mitigation measures occurs during alternatives development. Commitments to avoid, minimize or reduce impacts can be made part of the description of an alternative or can be identified during the environmental analysis and made part of refined project designs, specifications for how the work is completed, and/or conditions of project approval.
Document Preparation and Document Review: Once impacts are analyzed and mitigation measures are identified, the EA is prepared and distributed for review by the public and public agencies.
Public & Agency Review: The project team takes comments from the public and agencies during the review period.
Decision Document: After receiving public and agency comments on the EA, a determination is made as to whether the project can proceed into or if additional analysis is necessary. A decision document is prepared on the project and, if a construction project is identified, commits to mitigation of impacts.
Where Are We (←) in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process?
- Initiate Project and Define Scope of Study
- Define the Purpose and Need and Initial Design Options
- Collect and Analyze Data
- Design Options Screening
- Environmental Impact Analysis of Design Options ←
- Prepare Draft EA
- Publish Draft EA
- Publish Decision Document
In preparing the EA, the potential effects of the project on a wide range of environmental resources are evaluated, in accordance with appropriate regulations and guidance. The resources that can be affected and are typically considered as part of the Environmental Assessment process include:
The draft Environmental Assessment for this project is schedule for review by the public in the summer of 2015.