Demystifying Environmental

Consultant offers advice on getting through the NEPA process

Collaboration produces better relationships
NEPA is a framework that encourages transparency among all decisionmaking and analysis. While many airports dread this part of NEPA, it can and should be embraced as a means to form long-term relations with other agencies, stakeholders, and the public. The ability to engage the public on any project is not necessarily in every airport management team’s skill set. However, this role can be the most important tool airport management has when considering the need for an open and transparent process.

The benefits of actively engaging the public and participating agencies can produce results with the right mix of people and strategy. This approach can provide better integration by emphasizing the sharing of ideas and opinions. Enhancing the integration and coordination of many agencies, stakeholders, and the public can be productive due to the long-term benefits those relationships carry.

Collaboration and public involvement eases implementation of a decision. On the back end of a project, the knowledge gained can be applied to future decisions on monitoring, enforcement, and upcoming projects. The less obvious but equally important benefit is to reduce the likelihood of litigation by including key stakeholders in the earliest phases of development, solving issues at the lowest levels while building agreement and trust in the resulting product.

Integration - the starting block to better projects
Unfortunately, it is still very common for planning decisions to be revisited in NEPA, rather than integrating NEPA decisions into planning at the outset. At the same time, the NEPA process fails to take best advantage of planning processes, and is often understood as a separate and distinct set of procedures. As a result, the public and elected officials find themselves impatient, confused, and frustrated by the process.

Actively taking steps to integrate project planning and NEPA decisionmaking can streamline the project development process and best consider the environment. This approach can allow airports to develop projects that reflect and incorporate multi-agency goals and produce decisionmaking that endures and does not need to be revisited or revised. On the timing side, the issue of more efficient and faster project delivery can be realized when multi-agency integration occurs.

Integrating planning and NEPA processes is likely to require senior management direction and participation. However, this doesn’t mean that senior management is involved in every strategy and project meeting. The overall effectiveness does depend, to a large extent, on management’s awareness and commitment to push for results. Senior management involvement can provide an environment where strategies for linking planning and NEPA can be developed, tested, and adjusted within and among participating staff.

Linking the strategies available under NEPA with available planning tools is a time and cost advantage to an airport in both the long and short term. In order to remain ahead of a project, airports need to examine and understand those linkages particular to their airport and the project under consideration well in advance of jumping into conceptual design. An integrated approach to planning and NEPA helps solve this dilemma and can result in better projects that share a common link and avoid potentially expensive late phase changes.

Simplicity, collaboration, integration
Remember NEPA’s intent is to promote collaboration. In the simplicity of its framework lie three core elements: the CatEx, the EA and the EIS. Each of these elements shares common characteristics and terminology. Integrating NEPA into an airport’s project development can help streamline multiple processes to save time, while avoiding expensive changes near the end of project planning or design. Implementing the required processes in a community can have a long-term relationship benefit and ease preferred project implementation.

About the Author
William Keller has 20 years experience in aviation as an airport director, planner, and environmental consultant. He is the environmental service group leader for the Northwest Mountain Region of Reynolds Smith & Hills (RS&H), a full-service aviation consulting firm. Keller holds membership in the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is pursuing his Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional certification. He is an active pilot with a commercial certificate with an instrument rating and is based in Greenwood Village, CO.

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