by Judi Krauss, Environmental Planner

What environmental documentation is needed for an airport project? 

Good question!  There are all kinds of environmental regulations and “special purpose” laws related to the natural, cultural, and human environment that could apply to your airport or airport project.  However, the big one is called the National Environmental Policy Act, also known as NEPA. Any time there is a federal action associated with your project, such as the use of federal funds or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of a revision to the Airport Layout Plan, the FAA will need to comply with NEPA.  To do so, they will use one of three types of environmental processes or documents: Categorical Exclusion (CatEx), Environmental Assessment (EA), or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  To determine the level of NEPA documentation required for a project, the airport contacts its assigned FAA Environmental Protection Specialist.

Categorical Exclusion. 

A CatEx can be applied if your type of airport project is specifically listed in the applicable FAA Order as one that could qualify for an exclusion from further NEPA analysis if there are no extraordinary circumstances.  If the project clearly has no extraordinary circumstances, a Simple Written Request can be used to complete the NEPA environmental process; if there is further work needed to document the fact that there are no extraordinary circumstances, then a Documented Categorical Exclusion is required.

Environmental Assessment. 

The EA is a type of study used for projects that are not likely to have a significant impact on the environment, but for which there is no categorical exclusion available.  The EA evaluates the potential effects of a Proposed Action when compared to the No Action alternative.  It may include minimization, avoidance, or mitigation measures to achieve a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which is the federal decision document issued at the end of the study, if appropriate.  If a FONSI is not appropriate, the FAA may require further study through the preparation of an EIS.

Environmental Impact Statement.  

For larger, more complicated projects (considered to be major federal actions), an EIS may be required.  One requirement of an EIS is to fully vet potential alternatives to the Proposed Action.  An EIS can take more than a year to complete and may involve numerous technical studies upon which the EIS conclusions can be based.  At the start of the study, the FAA must publish a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS in the Federal Register.  At the end of the EIS process, the FAA must make a Record of Decision (ROD) for the project to move forward.

What are “Special Purpose” Laws?

Special purpose laws are federal laws, regulations, executive orders, or departmental orders that protect environmental resources and other items of concern in addition to NEPA.  FAA must consider these types of laws in its decision-making process as well.  Two special purpose laws that may require consultation between FAA and other resource agencies or governmental jurisdictions include the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.  Other special purpose laws may require FAA to make additional findings specific to the concerns covered by the regulation.

The summary above discusses the federal regulatory environment for airport projects.  However, certain states, Tribal governments, or even local jurisdictions may have their own sets of environmental regulations. 

At Coffman Associates, we have environmental planning professionals who make it their mission to stay current on the ever-changing environmental regulatory requirements related to airports.  For more information, contact Judi at jkrauss@coffmanassociates.com or click here to read about our recent environmental projects!

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