On the 10th May 2019 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) (now the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF)) published the “procedures to be followed for the assessment and minimum criteria for the reporting of identified environmental themes in terms of Section 24(5)(a) and (h) of the National Environmental Management Act (1998) (NEMA) when applying for Environmental Authorisation (EA)” within Government Notice (GN) no. 648 of Government Gazette no. 42451 (DEA, 2019). These procedures outline the requirement for an initial site sensitivity verification and numerous assessment and reporting protocols (i.e. specialist studies requirements) to be applied when initiated by any proposed development that triggers the need to apply for EA under the NEMA (Act no. 107 of 1998): Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations (2014, as amended). The protocols that may be triggered by a specific activity/proposed development are determined by implementing the DEA Screening tool (https://screening.environment.gov.za/screeningtool/#/pages/welcome).
Varying levels of sensitivity apply at the desktop screening level. If the proposed development is situated within an area delineated as either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ sensitivity within the specific theme, then a full specialist impact assessment report for that theme may have to be submitted. If the site is situated within an area of ‘medium sensitivity’, then either a compliance statement, or a full specialist impact assessment report may be required subject to the outcome of the site sensitivity verification being conducted onsite. Where the site falls within a ‘low sensitivity’ area, a compliance statement must be submitted to the competent authority as part of the EIA process.
The protocols/specialist studies triggered during the online screening during an initial site sensitivity verification process, and thus required at a desktop level are then verified onsite, which must be conducted by an Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) or suitably qualified specialist in the specific field. If for instance the DEA screening tool has identified the proposed development site to be of ‘high sensitivity’ under the Terrestrial Biodiversity theme, but during the site sensitivity verification evidence is captured of the entire site having been transformed to bare agricultural croplands with little to no natural vegetation, then there is potential to justify the need for a compliance statement and not a full specialist impact assessment. The site sensitivity verification process is therefore an essential component of the process of determining which protocols/specialist studies, and the level of assessment thereof, must be implemented during the EIA process. It is for this reason that it is vital for an experienced EAP, or (preferably) a suitably qualified specialist to conduct the initial site survey to determine the onsite level of sensitivity in comparison to the desktop level screening.
The adjustment of the already rigid national norm of quotation and subsequent implementation will take time to incorporate the initial site sensitivity verification and to develop a standard for determining the level of assessment that may be required (i.e. compliance statement or full impact assessment). To assist our valued clientele in this regard, ENVASS now offers the service of conducting the initial site sensitivity verification for any activity/proposed development site that had been earmarked for development. Our team of professionally qualified specialists, in partnership with our EAPASA registered EAPs, have the required expertise and working knowledge in a variety of fields to make an informed decision regarding onsite sensitivity in comparison to the DEA screening report. The outcome of the initial site sensitivity verification is a Screening Report, which documents the verified onsite sensitivity in relation to each theme triggered by the DEA screening tool. Recommendations on the level of assessment that will be required under each theme are made and briefly discussed. The benefits of appointing ENVASS to undergo this process are, inter alia: 1) Cost saving on unnecessarily detailed specialist studies, 2) Reduction of the overall project timeframes, 3) Provide the competent authority with findings to substantiate the specialist studies proposed and the level of assessment thereof, 4) Guaranty compliance with the promulgated species protocols under the various themes (DEA, 2019/20) and 5) Conduct environmental due diligence in the correct and most efficient manner.
Regardless of the level of assessment required, ENVASS has the inhouse capabilities to conduct both compliance statements and full impact assessments under a variety of environmental themes. These include, but are not limited to: Agriculture, Terrestrial and Aquatic Biodiversity (Fauna and Flora), Noise, Air Quality, Landscape/Visual, as well as am array of additional specialist studies that may be triggered by the DEA screening tool. For further information, or to request our services please feel free to contact us on 012 460 9768 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our qualified consultants will get in touch with you ASAP.