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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Safety: NEPA Construction Projects Process
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NEPA Process for Construction Projects

(excerpt from Manual 230 - Updated: 12/5/2005)


The AD will categorize each construction project upon the submission of an AD-700 form or at the earliest stage of the project planning process.  One of the following types of decisions must be made for each construction project:

  • Categorical Exclusion--Environmental Assessment (EA) not required,
  • EA required--Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and
  • Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required.

Since each research project conducted at the facility will undergo separate NEPA consideration, only the physical impacts of the actual construction and repair and maintenance (R&M) on the environment need to be addressed.

Proposed construction/repair and maintenance (R&M) projects can be categorically excluded from EA or EIS requirements if the action to be take is noncontroversial and meets one of the following criteria:

  • repair and maintenance of an existing facility, including alterations and renovations;
  • planning, inventory, survey, data collection, and permit activities; and
  • emergency actions to protect life, property, environment; to preserve human health and safety; and to comply with legal requirements.

If the proposed action is not exempt from EA or EIS requirements (for example new construction), then generally, an EA is prepared.  The AD may decide to move directly to an EIS if the human environmental impacts of the project are significant and warrant it.

An EA is a concise public document that is prepared during the planning and design phases of a construction/R&M project.  The EA includes a discussion of the need for the proposed action, alternatives to the proposed action, the environmental impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives, and a listing of agencies and persons consulted.  The EA should assess the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the proposed project.  This assessment provides the AD with the information necessary to determine whether an EIS should be prepared or if a FONSI can be made.

If the AD makes a FONSI decision, then a justification explaining why the proposed action does not have a significant impact on the environment is documented.  If the EA highlights several human or environmental impacts that are known or anticipated to be controversial, then review of the proposed action must continue to an EIS.

An EIS is a detailed document presenting an evaluation and analysis of all relevant factors where a determination is made that agency action will significantly affect the quality for the environment.  The EIS process beings with the publication of a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register.  The agency begins the scoping process to determine the issues to be addressed in the EIS.  Public participation is encouraged during the scoping process through public hearings.  Once the public hearings are concluded, a draft EIS is prepared based on the identified issues.  The public is then provided a 45-day comment period for review of the draft EIS.  During this time, members of the public, i.e., Federal, State, and local agencies; American Indian tribes; and other interested parties can review and comment.  In addition, a copy of the draft EIS must be submitted to EPA for review.

After the review process, the agency responds to all comments and incorporates these into the final document.  The final EIS is published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period.  At the end of this time, the AD makes a decision on the proposed action.  To justifiy and explain the course of action, a Record of Decision is published for public review.

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Last Modified: 3/12/2010
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