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The EIA Process: Environmental Screening Form

Building a house, or any other project, in the BVI requires permission from the Planning Authority. This is normal and is similar to what you would find in any developed country. The intention is to encourage development and growth of the Territory in an organized fashion. Orderly and planned growth provides the economic benefits desired by the community while preserving the environmental, social and cultural characteristics that make these islands special and desirable. In this series, we are looking at the various components of the Environmental Impact Assessment process. The intent is to explain and simplify the procedures so you can achieve your goals efficiently.

About EIAs:

There are guidelines provided by the Town & Country Planning Department (T&CP) to assist in the development process. These guidelines provide a framework for development and help individuals understand the steps necessary to make their dreams become reality.

Once you have identified the property and satisfied the legal requirements for land ownership, the real fun begins. In a previous article we described the value of an initial Environmental Audit. This will quickly identify issues that could derail a project or require complex engineering solutions. It will also let you know what plants, animals, and other interesting features are on the land. Working with an architect to create your dream is essential. Once your vision has been transformed into a conceptual plan you should begin the process for planning approval. To begin you must submit an initial planning application and an Environmental Screening Form (ESF).

The purpose of the ESF is to briefly describe environmental and social conditions as they relate to the property and the proposed development.

This will give the T&CP a better understanding of the site and what you plan to do. Very often this is combined with a meeting where the project is presented to the T&CP. This information will then be used by the T&CP to determine what level of EIA is required, or if one is even needed. The three categories are: A (full EIA required), B (Limited EIA required), or C (no EIA necessary). When an EIA is considered necessary, the ESF will help the Department generate Terms of Reference to guide the EIA.

So, what exactly is an ESF and how do you fill it out?


While at first glance the Form may seem daunting and long, it is really quite simple. It actually is a useful exercise because it will help you understand the topics of concern and what will likely follow in the EIA. There is easy access to the Form through the T&CP and their website. If you prefer, your architect or environmental consultant can get it for you.

The ESF is divided into a number of sections covering topics that are considered important in identifying the kind of information needed in the EIA. The first three pages consist of basic information describing the project and the site. The surrounding land uses and the project setting must also be described.

The next page is devoted to the key habitat characteristics and the existing land cover. For example, the total project land cover, in acreage, ft2, or %, must be shown. The same is true for basic habitat types, such as forest, scrub, mangroves, wetlands and salt ponds, and other environments. The amount of shoreline or beach, where appropriate, is also requested.

The remaining six pages are organized under a variety of headings with questions in each. While it may not be possible to provide all the information, some general knowledge of the site conditions is essential. Remember that this information will help guide the T&CP in formulating the Terms of Reference for the EIA. The more accurate information you can present, the more relevant will be the EIA to your project goals.

Some of the important topics covered include land features and the proposed measures to reduce erosion. There is also concern with air quality and the likelihood of emissions, odors or smoke that may be discharged into the atmosphere. The same is true of groundwater and any possible discharge or contamination. Runoff, especially from stormwater, is a subject of concern because there may be impacts on other lands and users downstream.

There are sections on plants and animals. These relate primarily to the quantity and types of vegetation that will be altered or removed during development. Naturally, there is concern for threatened or endangered species that may be affected by the proposal. Proximity to migration pathways or environmentally sensitive or protected areas must be described when relevant.

Then there are sections on energy, environmental health, noise, aesthetics, recreation, archaeology and cultural resources, transportation, utilities, and additional topics. Each section contains several questions designed to better understand potential impacts of the project.

All the information contained in the ESF is general and used to better understand the site conditions, surrounding land uses and potential impacts of your proposal. The intention is not to discourage development but to help get the most out of it for you, your neighbors and the community. Most are the kinds of questions you would ask if someone was building next to you.

The purpose of good planning is to foster continued development while minimizing negative consequences. The T&CP wants you to realize your dream while protecting the environment you came here to enjoy. The ESF is just one tool to help that process.

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