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The Screening Process

Discuss about the Environmental Impact for Ecological Research and Application.

Whenever a project is undertaken and an assessment of its Environmental Impacts is to be done, the first step is screening of the proposal. This process helps in deciding whether the proposal can be the cause of a significant social, economic or environmental impact.

The next logical step is determining the significance of the prescribed impacts in the screening. Although EIA (Economic Impact Assessment) is based on a series of recognised steps which run from start of the project till the decision of implementing is taken, STP (Significance Testing Process) continues throughout the life of the project. Under the EU EIA Directive issued by the EU and made applicable by the South Australia government, Annexure-1 defines screening activities under two sections – Prescribed Activity and Discretionary Activity for Prescriptive Screening. It is essential to understand these, as has been explained below, asserts Acton, (2012). 

(Annexure – 1 of the EU EIA Directive for Prescriptive Screening)

Although EIA is subjected to regulatory requirements of a particular jurisdiction, the Prescriptive Test is carried out on the basis of a preconceived lists of actions and thresholds, particularly about the type of development to be undertaken. There are 22 development projects in the prescribed list which are subject to screening, although some development projects may trigger a formal EIA regulation because of the likely significant impact they can create. For the listed development projects, there are relatively simple decisions and actions to be undertaken for an EIA, but both the developer and the apex decision-making authority are bound by the needs of the assessment, as per Grafton et al, (2014).

(Annexure – 1 of the EU EIA Directive for Prescriptive Screening)

This approach is known as discretionary because it is based on the principle of Discretionary Test which decides what action is to be implemented and the judgement call is taken on a case-by-case basis by an appropriate person or a group of persons, such as a minister or an official or a board or committee. The decision of this individual or group about whether the proposed project should be subjected to a full impact assessment is considered to be binding, as per Grafton et al, (2014). The decision takes into account other criteria, such as the size, capacity and cost of the project as detailed below:

Characteristics of the project.

Significance Testing Process

Proposed location of the project.

Existing environment status of the area.

Characteristics which are associated with the impacts and which are likely to occur during the phase of the project’s construction, operation and, if relevant, decommissioning of the project.

Scale of the project and

Eco-sensitivity of the location.

The above discussion makes it clear that the Prescriptive Screening Process, if compared with the Discretionary Screening Process, is comparatively easier to implement and also helps in taking consistent decisions. But it has the limitation of implementation as it ends after the decision has been finalised. It only helps the decision-makers in making certain about those development projects which are likely to be subjected to assessment. Another drawback for the prescriptive process is that once it is implemented in to the regulatory framework, it becomes inflexible and does not permit any adjustments as the amendments are limited and can be difficult, as detailed by Woodward et al, (2014). The only advantage for using this process is that adjustments are easy for those projects which lie below the threshold limits.

On the other hand, the discretionary test approach allows for better judgement as well as use of common sense with regard to the context of a project. This process is considered to be more flexible, since the implementation of the discretionary method allows for an approaches which is highly flexible and allows easy change for the system as well as the procedure. Moreover, for this project, the 6 clauses listed above in the discretionary method find application and are appropriate for appraising the EIA of this project, assert Woodward et al, (2014).

Table Illustrating Environmental Affects by using Leopold Matrix

The Key Impacts

Phase of the Project:

Construction

Operation

De-Commissioning

PARAMETERS

Landscape and Visual

(-) 9                                    

                 (-) 9

(-) 8                                     

             (-) 8      

(-) 6                                     

                             (-) 6

Waste & Contamination

(-) 8                                    

                 (-) 8

(-) 6                                     

             (-) 6      

(-) 6                                     

                             (-) 6

Ecology & Nature Conservation

(-) 8                                    

                 (-) 8

(-) 6                                     

             (-) 6      

(+) 6                                     

                            (+) 6

Hydrology

(-) 6                                    

                 (-) 4

(-) 4                                     

             (-) 4      

(+) 4                                     

                            (+) 4

Air Quality

(-) 6                                    

                 (-) 6

(-) 6                                     

             (-) 6      

(+) 6                                     

                            (+) 6

Noise

(-) 4                                    

                 (-) 4

(-) 6                                     

             (-) 6      

(+) 6                                     

                            (+) 6

Traffic

(-) 4                                    

                 (-) 4

(-) 6                                     

             (-) 4      

(+) 4                                     

                            (+) 4

Employment Related

(+) 6                                    

                (+) 4

(+) 6                                     

            (+) 6      

(-) 6                                     

                             (-) 6

Cultural Heritage

(-) 2                                    

                 (-) 2

(-) 2                                     

             (-) 2      

(-) 2                                     

                             (-) 2

Safety

(-) 6                                    

                 (-) 6

(-) 8                                     

             (-) 8      

(+) 6                                     

                            (+) 6

KEYS

NIL Effect

1

Minor Adverse Effect

2 to 4

Moderate Adverse Effect

5 to 7

Substantial Adverse Effect

8 to 10

Positive Impact

+

Negative Impact

--

In South Australia, the process of EIA is regulated by sections 46 to 48K of Part-4, Division-2 of the Development Act, 1993. The Planning Minister can order the EIA process to be undertaken as per the provisions of the Act, if it is ascertained by the Minister that the development project under preview can be a major social, economic or environmental threat to the area, say Palutikof et al, (2014).

Sensitive Zones:

Based on the findings of the screening (discussed in PART-ONE above), the Minister decides about the jurisdiction of the area where the project is proposed to be set-up and subsequently orders the concerned official to undertake the study of the project as per the guidelines issued. A Matrix has to be submitted by the project promoters (in this case study it is the Leopold Matrix shown in PART-ONE). The Matrix takes into effect the three segments of the project – 1. Construction; 2. Operation; and 3. Decommissioning, as per Palutikof et al, (2014). Based on the parameters considered for these three segments of the project, this report addresses the impacts, in order of their magnitude, which these three segments will create on the defined parameters. Finally, the findings will be summarised and based on the analysis of the summarised findings, the project’s approval or denial will be conveyed to the Minister and the promoters by the concerned official, as explained by Lobo-Guerrero, (2010).

Prescribed Activity

Once the project starts, analysis show that there will be substantial traffic movement to and from the base station site right from the commencement of construction. This movement is expected to comprise of 1200 vehicle trips for workers and 600 vehicle trips per day of construction material. During the operational period of the project, the trips of visitors will comprise of around 200 cars and 100 buses per day. There will also be 25 to 40 operations personnel on site requiring 30 car trips per day. The waste removal trucks will be making a minimum of 5 trips each day. As per the EIS, the preferred route to the proposed base station site will be via Sigma Road. There is likely to be an upgrade of this route. This route is considered to be the favourite among the visitors and the bus service providers as it provides direct connectivity with the centre of the city and other local residential areas, as detailed by Ali & Yano, (2004).

Visual Amenity and Landscape Character

The proposed site, situated at the foot of Mt Lofty was being used for grazing and cropping by the locals. All the surrounding areas was traditionally considered to be fit only for this purpose by the locals. The nearest residential houses are located about 5 km to the north of the site, where the promoter Aerial Tours proposes to set-up the base station, asserts Klein, (2014).

Native Titles and Indigenous Cultural Heritage

The Crown Solicitor’s Office has clarified that Native Title rights, if any, which may have existed over the land now stand extinguished. As a result of this report, there is no possible harm to the Indigenous Cultural Heritage in the area, as per Klein, (2014).

It has also been concluded in the EIS that there are no places or features of local or State heritage value which are likely to be considered for impact due to the project.

Site Vegetation

The proposed site of the project consists of terrestrial vegetation, with occasional and scattered native species found along the cliff top. There were no signs of any nationally listed species during the flora assessment within the proposed site, it is reported that the nationally threatened Euphrasia collina, commonly known as Osborne’s Eyebright, is reported to occur on the south side of the proposed site. A targeted survey was conducted and although a number of common varieties were identified in the cliff vegetation on the south of the site, no traces of the threatened species were found on the proposed site, assert Labatt & White, (2003).

Discretionary Activity

Native Fauna

The historic surveys conducted by the DEH in the Biological Database of South Australia (BDBSA) did identify the presence of just two mammals, only three reptiles, just one amphibian and about 69 species of birds in the area and its vicinity. There may be some other common species which may not have found mention in the BDBSA’s report, but their numbers are likely to be very low, as per Mills, (2008).

The promoters will be required to strictly follow the guidelines provided in the undernoted legislations as these stand notified for the area where the project is proposed to be located.

The Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Plan, 2008

This plan was developed by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board to provide a vision and goal for the entire region for the next 20 to 50 years period. The goals and visions discussed in the plan have found acceptance with the local community and have also been approved by the Minister for Environment and Conservation, as per Mills, (2008).

Although this report has not included any specific assessment about the project on the basis of the provisions detailed in the Building Rules under the Development Act, 1993, it cannot be denied that even if the Governor gives a provisional authorisation for the project, still under section 48 of the Act, the promoters are required to get a certification for the project’s development under the Building Rules. A development approval as per Part 1of the Development Act, 1993 can only be made by the Governor after a private certifier has assessed and certified that the project complies with the Building Rules as required under Regulation 64 of the Development Act, 1993), asserts Acton, (2012).

Environment Protection Act, 1993

This Act being in force in South Australia strictly provides for management and protection of the environment which includes any site contamination, damage to air and water quality, increase in noise levels and excessive waste. The promoters will also have to enforce the following Environment Protection Policies:

  • Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy, 2003
  • Environment Protection (Waste Management) Policy, 1994
  • Environment Protection (Environmental Noise) Policy 2007
  • Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy, 1994

Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act, 2007

This Act provides guidelines for addressing any climate changes and for achieving a sustainable future for South Australia. This is strictly followed in SA as this is the first State or Territory in Australia to legislate targets for reduction of greenhouse emissions.

Conclusion

In the Leopold Matrix, the numbers shown in the left corner of the box denote Magnitude of the impact and the numbers at the right hand corner of the box denote the Importance of that impact in relation to the project. It has been observed by the author of this report that this project is going to impact Landscape and Visuals, Waste and Contamination and Ecology and Nature Conservation the most during the construction as well as the operation stages. The least affected is Cultural Heritage, although Air Quality and Safety will also be affected to a large extent. The only bright side of the project is the Employment Related opportunities which will be available to the residents of the adjoining towns. In case, there is a decision of decommissioning of the project, the most affected segment will still be Landscape and Visuals and Waste and Contamination, whereas the biggest gainers will be Air Quality, Noise and Safety, although Ecology and Nature Conservation will also stand to gain.

References:

Acton, Q.A. 2012, Issues in Ecological Research and Application. ScholarlyEditions, Atlanta.

Ali, P.A.U. and Yano, K. 2004, Eco-finance: The Legal Design and Regulation of Market-based Environmental Instruments. Kluwer Law International, The Hague.

Grafton, R. Q., Pittock, J., Williams, J., Jiang, Q., Possingham, H., & Quiggin, J. (2014). “Water Planning and Hydro-Climatic Change in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia”. Ambio, 43(8), 1082-1092.

Klein, N. 2014, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Penguin UK, London.

Labatt, S. and White, R.R. 2003, Environmental Finance: A Guide to Environmental Risk Assessment and Financial Products. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

Lobo-Guerrero, L. 2010, Insuring Security: Biopolitics, Security and Risk. Routledge, Oxon.

Mills, P. 2008, “The Greening of Markets”, Finance and Development, Vol. 56 (March), pp. 32–36.

Palutikof, J.P., Boulter, S.L., Barnett, J. and Rissik, D. (ed.) 2014, Applied Studies in Climate Adaptation. John Wiley & Sons, West Sussex.

Woodward, G., Hajibabaei, M., Dumbrell, A. and Baird, D. 2014, Big Data in Ecology. Academic Press, London.

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