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The EIA Process for Private Property: A Limited Environmental Impact Assessment

 

Building a house, or any other type of project in the BVI, requires approval from the Planning Authority. The process is not difficult but does require following the guidelines prepared by the Town and Country Planning Department. The basic procedure has been described in previous articles.

The first step in getting permission to build is submitting a planning application and an Environmental Screening Form. Very often this is followed by a meeting with the T&CP where the project is presented and various issues are discussed. The information is then used by the T&CP to determine the level of impact assessment necessary and to draft the Terms of Reference to guide the EIA. 

A proposal is categorized as A, B, or C. Category A projects are considered likely to have significant and complex impacts on the biological environment, the socio-economic conditions, or other factors.

Such projects will require a full EIA with specific mitigation measures and a public hearing. Examples would include a marina, hotel or other large project, or one in a sensitive habitat. Category A projects will be considered in more detail in future articles. 

Category B projects are generally considered less complex and smaller, though they may still have some adverse environmental impacts. A good example would be a single family residence on an acre of land not near a sensitive habitat. Such a project will generally require a Limited EIA in a simplified form with less information than would be necessary in a Category A designation. 

A project that is considered low impact with no significant adverse effects may be a Category C with no assessment required. For the average individual wanting to construct their dream villa on a small parcel overlooking the sea, a Category B assessment will usually be necessary.

Before embarking on the Limited EIA process, a few preliminary steps must be taken. Obviously, identifying the land and working with your architect is the first step. A preliminary environmental audit will also help reduce problems in the future. While preparing the planning application and ESF, it is also a good idea to request a Hazard & Vulnerability Assessment from the Department of Disaster Management.

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Such an assessment should be requested for all projects. The HVA is useful in evaluating risks from earthquake, tsunami, and flooding. It will also provide geological data on land stability, slope characteristics and related factors. The HVA is intended to help safeguard life and property in the event of unexpected natural disasters.

The format of the limited EIA and the type of information required will be guided by the ToR that results from the ESF and meetings with the planners. While each set is specific to the project, there are some general expectations for a Category B assessment.

The Limited EIA report usually begins with a project description and location and methodology used in collecting the data for the assessment. The project study limits will identify the extent of the direct and indirect impacts associated with the project. This will include adjacent environments that may be affected.

A significant portion of the report will focus on the existing environmental conditions. This will form the baseline description of the habitats. Both the physical and biological components must be considered. In addition to the obvious description of the flora and fauna, you will usually be required to provide information on geology, soils, and drainage characteristics that may be prone to erosion. Other factors, such as visual impacts, noise, or dust may be addressed in the report.

Depending on the location, the ToR may require data on rare species, cultural resources, traffic issues and socio-economic conditions. While the list of topics may seem long, the amount and detail required is usually limited.

The ToR will usually include a section on alternatives to the project. This essentially asks for a justification of the location selected and the project option chosen. A comparison to other possible options and the impacts of each will help the planning authority understand the reasons for the proposal. 

A prediction of potential impacts during each stage of the project forms an important part of the assessment. This should distinguish between positive and negative, short-term and long-term impacts and should be quantified where possible. 

Mitigation measures should be proposed to address negative impacts and suggest reasonable options to reduce impacts. An Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan should encompass the mitigation measures and provide a framework to guide the construction so the negative consequences may be reduced or avoided.

The Limited EIA Form covers many of the issues of concern in a summary format that allows quick and easy review. This form is usually attached to the final report.

While all this may seem a bit confusing and daunting, it is actually quite structured and easy to follow.

Much of the necessary information in the Limited EIA will be contained in the appendices to the report. In the end, you may have a document of two or three hundred pages. It may seem big, but it will contain all the information the authority needs to properly understand your proposal. Equally important is the guidance it will give as you move forward with your plans.

The goal is to help you build your dream house while protecting the beauty you came here to enjoy.

Erin Paviour-Smith

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