Planning & Environment Linkages Implementation Resources
Linking Mitigation Strategies With Plans
Note: This information was archived in April 2009. For the current information, see http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/integ/related.asp.
A final linkage would be to link the potential mitigation strategies developed during planning with the mitigation plans developed during NEPA (see Exhibit L).
What Is the Linkage?
Where mitigation is required, state DOTs and resource agencies have been exploring ways they may bring the unique skills of each to bear to increase the viability of at-risk communities and ecosystems, by identifying mitigation needs and opportunities across many projects and much broader areas in planning.
Natural resource impacts and opportunities are examined in the planning stage, across multiple projects in a region or state, and integrating land use, transportation, and natural resource restoration/ conservation planning directs priority investments. Decisions and analysis can occur during planning that can greatly facilitate federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act compliance, among other natural resource laws and regulations.
Why Make the Linkage?
This linkage will provide:
- A more efficient and less risky project development process.
- Efficient and effective public expenditures on mitigation.
- Substantive contributions to species, watershed, and ecosystem health and recovery.
- Time savings made possible by establishing and prioritizing opportunities through integrated planning.
- Cost savings for mitigation acquired earlier in process. Opportunities for ecosystem-level conservation and/or mitigation that are available during planning may not be available or may be prohibitively expensive when a project is implemented.
- Greater certainty of permitting approvals during project development saving time and money.
- More cost-effective transportation solutions with significant and lasting environmental benefits.
What to Consider?
- Conflicting priorities and scales among agencies or field offices, or national, regional, and local concerns
- Inconsistent terminology and incompatible data and performance measures across agencies
- Conflicting geographic, ecological, and political boundaries
- Lack of plans (especially plans for natural resources) or plans with differing levels of detail
- Communication among stakeholders and the need for early and long-term involvement
- Funding procedures (short-term objectives often get funded before long-term objectives)
- Risk aversion and lack of trust among agencies
- Perception that regulations are inflexible
How to Do It?
A recent cooperative effort among federal resources agencies and the FHWA resulted in a watershed approach to mitigation called Eco-Logical. Eco-Logical encourages flexibility in regulatory processes. It lays out the conceptual groundwork for integrating plans across agency boundaries and endorses ecosystem-based planning and mitigation. An Eco-Logical approach relies on agencies to work together with the public to integrate their respective plans in determining environmental priority areas and targeting where mitigation investments may be able to produce the greatest good for multiple species and resources. This often involves looking at species and community goals across eco-regions, based on habitats.
Build and Strengthen Collaborative Partnerships: A Foundation for Local Action
Essential to the Eco-Logical approach is the development of close collaborative partnerships among diverse groups help to identify where interests and concerns overlap, and thus help to form the basis for an integrated planning process. The benefits of these partnerships can be both immediate and long-range-term. Any agency-not just an action agency-should be able to initiate or be willing to participate in this effort. This step may be considered in tandem with data acquisition.
- Build relationships with federal, state, county, municipal, and tribal partners, the public and other stakeholders. They can participate in long-range-term landscape conservation and management measures; they offer important services and knowledge; and may have significant project and mitigation implementation concerns that can be understood in planning. In addition to fostering transparent decision-making, their involvement often leads to creative solutions not previously considered.
- Formalize working partnerships, for better communication of roles and responsibilities and help ensure continuity of the effort in spite of inevitable staff turnover.
- Create a collaborative culture at the field-office level so agencies can develop ecosystem approaches at both the planning and project development levels, and ultimately integrate their planning efforts at the regional and landscape levels (e.g., use interagency liaison officers).
What Data Informs This Linkage?
Data for implementing Eco-Logical is drawn from multiple agency sources representing transportation, community, and environmental resources information. To the greatest extent possible, this information should be gathered in GIS data layer formats. Community and transportation data needed are the same as the information used to implement the long-range planning process. All available and acceptable GIS level natural resource data should be used to help implement an Eco-Logical based process. Generally available and excellent sources for resource data are:
- Ecoregional conservation plans have been completed for the contiguous U.S.; science-based research and conservation organizations such as NatureServe and The Nature Conservancy focused on and completed significant planning for the viability and recovery of imperiled species, with input from resource/regulatory agencies, when the agencies could not do this work themselves. Now the data and planning work is being utilized by state DOTs as well as resource agencies.
- State wildlife action plans are available in every state. Transportation agencies are required to consult these when developing transportation plans and identifying mitigation needs and strategies.
- Resource Agency Management Plans are a foundation for developing a regional ecosystem framework. Some types of plans include:
- Watershed plans
- Recovery plans
- Resource management plans
- Forest management plans
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Special Area Management Plans
- Plans developed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with agency scientists, such as the Bird Conservation Plans of Partners In Flight, ecoregional plans of The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Action Plan, or statewide Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy
- For coastal states there are plans from state coastal management programs, state coastal non-point (not from a single, well-defined site) pollution programs, National Marine Sanctuaries (NOAA Fisheries Service), National Estuarine Research Reserves (NOAA Fisheries Service and States), and National Estuary Programs (EPA)
What Decisions Help Make the Linkage?
During the planning process, existing resource information as well as recovery or management plans should be used to help screen all planning scenarios and project concepts by overlaying resource information with community and transportation plans and proposals. This overlaying provides partners with an understanding of the locations and potential impacts of proposed infrastructure actions. With this understanding, they can more accurately identify the areas most in need of protection, and better predict and assess cumulative resource impacts. This can also streamline infrastructure development by identifying ecologically significant areas, potentially impacted resources, regions to avoid, and mitigation opportunities before new projects are initiated.
This process will help ensure that the final plan and the individual project concepts incorporate environmental goals to the greatest extent possible. In the end, however, it may not be possible to avoid all environmental impacts associated with the final approved plan.