What is an Environmental Impact Assessment?

If you’re looking to purchase land, it’s a good idea to have it assessed for potential environmental hazards and clean-up costs first. This goes double for commercial, rural, and other types of non-residential land, which can potentially come with a whole slew of issues.

Different types of reports

There are different levels of environmental reports required for different situations, but all serve as a major part of performing due diligence for any prospective property.

A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (Phase 1 ESA) is the most common type, and usually all that’s required for a raw land purchase. The next step is a Phase 2 ESA, which delves deeper into the topics covered by a Phase 1 ESA.

And finally, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is generally the highest level of assessment available.

Phase 1 ESA

During a Phase 1 assessment, civil engineers and other specialists search the land for any evidence of chemical contamination and spills. Old chemical waste barrels and tankers for example, would suggest the need for further testing.

The assessment also utilizes federal and state records to discover the previous owners and recorded uses of the land. Any past violations involving the property would be listed on these databases. It’s common to interview former landowners and neighbors to gather more data not apparent during the initial inspection. Depending on the findings, they could decide to test the soil or water for contaminants to make sure the previous issue was properly dealt with.

The property is thoroughly photographed during the process and studied for signs of anything missed during the walkthrough. After completion, the report is summarized and offers suggestions for how to solve any issues revealed.

Phase 2 ESA

If the Phase 1 report implies further investigation is needed, then you might consider moving forward with a Phase 2 inspection. This assessment is essentially just a deeper look into any issues discovered in Phase 1 and involves more in-depth water, soil, and air testing to figure out the exact nature of the contamination and how widespread it is.

Environmental Impact Statement

An environmental impact statement (EIS) is typically the highest assessment level available and must meet the National Environmental Policy Act requirements. The report goes much deeper than ESAs, and includes the current environmental status of the land, the potential environmental and social impact of the proposal, and ways to avoid or minimize potential negative impacts. It also includes the effects on local communities and the economy.

It’s sometimes required by law but can vary with the type of proposals and locations.

What’s covered in the report?

The report covers a wide range of topics, including things not directly related to the physical environment.

Air, water, and soil are sampled and tested for any contaminants which could potentially harm the local community or wildlife.

Federal and state databases are used to uncover land history, similar to the ESA protocols. This reveals details such as previous ownership, buried storage tanks, utility lines, and the legal land boundaries. Slope and land elevation are also determined for water drainage.

If there are any endangered species on the land, or archeological or culturally significant artifacts, the report will reveal them. These situations could potentially bring the project to a standstill, and require a lot of time, finances, and legal maneuvering to address.

Other considerations

An EIS also assesses how a development project will affect the local community on a social and economic level.

Will the project require people to be relocated? Will it create unwanted noise or air pollution? Will it create traffic problems? Will it create jobs? Will it attract tourists, or boost the local economy?

An EIS is made public on an official EPA database, to inform citizens about these sorts of issues, and the overall impact of developments on their communities.

It’s imperative to do an assessment before closing any deals on a property, due to how costly and time-consuming fixing these problems can be. In the case where issues are uncovered by the report, make sure the seller is required to fix them before moving forward; or if not, that you can back out and get a full refund on your deposit.

If you’re looking to develop land and not sure where to begin, consider contacting APX West at 928-412-3570. We’re dedicated to the success of our clients, and offer consultation and professional guidance for new developers.

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