The EIA as a developmental tool
This is the third and final post in this series, in which we have studied the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process as a valuable tool for reaping the benefits of a project while avoiding its threats. Hopefully we have made the point that it is a process, and not just a report prepared by one party and accepted or rejected by the other. It is an iterative process that gives both parties the best chance at a win-win solution. We have also pointed out that the eight-part process relies on a step-by-step sharing of information and opinions, designed to achieve:
• Systematic identification of potential positive and negative effects of a proposed project on the existing (and future) values of an environment;
• Assessment of the impacts on the physical, social, cultural, chemical, biological and economic environments;
• Identification of options for the management of those impacts;
• Presentation of reports to stakeholders (government and the local community);
• Creation of an environmental management plan engaging both parties in a sustainable program.
The Bahamas has used the demand for an EIA as part of its approvals process for decades. Governments have seen it as their way of protecting our pristine natural environment, our land and sea resources and the quality of the air we breathe. Unfortunately, once “accepted” most EIAs are filed away, never to be seen again. It is left for activists with good memories to engage the project when it is not performing as agreed in the areas noted.
But the EIA is intended to be a tool for development, not just a permitting device.
We have mentioned several times that the EIA process is designed to address threats to the social, physical, cultural, chemical, biological and economic environments. That is a very broad spectrum of our concerns, but the use of the EIA has been restricted primarily to just two of those concerns – the physical and economic environments. And even then, it has only been applied to “major” private-sector projects, most often by foreign developers.
According to Graham Ashford, the environmental impact assessment system is designed to protect the local community from threats in all of the areas mentioned above, using the same eight-step process. Threats to the local community are not only present in building projects, but are also present in the implementation of policies, programs and new legislation.
Consider the potential benefits of its use in the designing of the soon-to-be-implemented Over-the -Hill revitalization program, which addresses physical and economic issues, but may in fact threaten the social and cultural environment. Even in the areas it does address, the local community was not involved in the establishment of the values to be protected, the mitigating strategies intended are not part of the management plan. All of these concerns have been “arranged” by government (outside the community). The tool of the EIA provides both government and the communities of Bain Town, Grants Town, Centreville and their neighbors with the opportunity to state their case, choose the benefits worth working toward, agree where there are threats to their values and what measures should be taken to avoid them and then manage the program over the long term.
We believe the environmental assessment process is an awesome tool for development, especially in a country that has so much to lose – a magnificent, pristine natural environment; a unique and colorful cultural history; a delightfully built environment with a great variety from island to island; and a bold and traditionally independent people. These are all threatened by both the move to develop physically and by the various programs and bits of legislation intended to correct perceived inadequacies. The risk management process available is the EIA process.
• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com and like its Facebook page. The firm’s mission is to help its clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.