NPS Director's Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making
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Saratoga National Historical Park, NY6.3 Decision Documents — FONSI

When an EA is prepared, the decision-maker must determine before public release whether the alternatives have the potential for significant impact. If so, the preparation of an EIS begins, and an NOI to prepare an EIS is sent to the Federal Register. If not, the EA proceeds, public comments are solicited, and upon completion of response to comments, a FONSI is signed.

A. FONSI

A FONSI is an explanation of why the selected action will have no significant effects on the human environment. It is based on the EA and comments of agencies and the public. The FONSI states which alternative has been selected, very briefly describes other alternatives considered in the EA, and discusses how criteria were used and how they were weighed in the selection process. The FONSI is separate from the EA, and it is detailed enough in drawing from sections in the EA to stand alone. The FONSI is signed by the Regional Director. The FONSI's signature block may also include a line for approval recommendation from the Park Superintendent to the Regional Director.

  1. Content — A FONSI serves two functions in the NPS. It is the “proof” that no significant impacts would occur if the proposal is implemented, and it explains the rationale used in selecting the alternative for implementation. Therefore, after describing the proposed action, a FONSI should follow the list of significance criteria (section 4.2), and any measures integrated into the selected alternative that apply should be explained. For instance, if the proposal is to allow visitors to view an ongoing archeological excavation, and public safety is an issue (criterion 2 in the list of significance criteria), the alternative selected may include “fencing the site,” or “only allow visitation on guided tours with park rangers,” and note that “these measures have proven nearly 100% effective in other parks (e.g., Park X, Park Y)” in protecting public safety. This kind of synopsis of information taken from the EA assures readers (including NPS decision-makers and any reviewing court) that concerns that could mean significant impact have been adequately addressed. In most cases, 5 pages are adequate to provide the specific proof required in a FONSI. In cases in which a “mitigated EA” has been prepared — that is, the impact has been reduced to below a “significance threshold” through the use of mitigation — 5 pages may not be adequate. The environmentally preferable alternative as indicated in the EA must also be identified. If it is not the selected alternative, reasons for non-selection must be clearly stated. In a FONSI, the reasons must be described for rejecting all alternatives except the one ultimately selected, similar to the process described in section 6.2(A) for Records of Decision.

  2. Mitigation — Because an EA is an analysis document, simply identifying mitigation measures does not commit NPS to adopting or implementing them. If mitigation is integral to an alternative, and this is clearly stated in the EA, adopting the alternative in the FONSI does automatically mean the mitigation is binding. Any mitigation that is dependent on funding or other factors must be specifically adopted and stated as such in the FONSI. It is suggested that a matrix or table be attached to the FONSI itemizing mitigations, critical milestones, and responsible party.

  3. Errata sheets — If factual corrections need to be made to the EA as a result of comments, you can use errata sheets instead of republishing the entire document. If substantive comments have been made, but do not necessarily require a change in the text of the EA, NPS should respond to these comments in an errata sheet. Because errata sheets in combination with the EA form the completed EA, errata sheets should be sent to all who have commented with a letter noting that the errata sheets and the original EA form the final document. The errata sheets are attached to the FONSI and distributed. See 5.5(D) for more information on use of errata sheets and completion of the record.

  4. Wetlands and floodplains — If the preferred alternative would be located in or adversely affect a floodplain or wetland, and if the EA has led to a FONSI, a wetland/floodplain SOF must be combined with the public review copy of the EA. If the final preferred alternative still results in adverse impact to a floodplain or a wetland but results in a FONSI, a final SOF must be attached to the FONSI as a separately identifiable document.

  5. Section 106 of the NHPA compliance — If the preferred alternative affects a historic property and thus requires consultation under section 106 of NHPA, the information gathered as part of the section 106 review must be included in the NEPA document and the section 106 process must be completed before a FONSI can be signed. The FONSI must include a statement about consultation under section 106.

  6. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act — All consultation requirements must be completed, as defined by section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, before a FONSI can be signed. It is highly recommended that consultation documentation accompany the public review EA document.

  7. Waiting period for FONSIs (1501.4 (e)) — In certain limited cases, NPS must make the FONSI available for a 30-day minimum public review before it decides whether to prepare an EIS or implement the project. If a FONSI has been prepared, the issuing office must wait 30 days before it implements the project or prepares an EIS for the project if the selected alternative (a) is an NPS project, or closely similar to an NPS project, that normally requires an EIS (see section 4.4) or has in the past required an EIS, or (b) is without precedence in the NPS. Notice of such a waiting period should be published in the Federal Register, but it must also be published in the local newspaper of record.

  8. Impairment — From the facts presented in the analysis in the environmental assessment and summarized in the FONSI, the FONSI must indicate that after a review of the impacts that the alternative to be selected for implementation will not impair park resources or values and will not violate the NPS Organic Act.

  9. Signatory — The signatory authority for a FONSI rests with the Regional Director.

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