How long does an Environmental Impact Study take?

What to expect for timelines when looking to hire an environmental consultant...

Aster Environmental Services

1/5/20243 min read

This is often the first question that clients ask of their hired environmental consultants, and it can be a difficult question to answer. If you contact a potential consultant for a quote to prepare an EIS, it is natural to want to establish a project timeline to inform your application and planning processes. However, be cautious if a consultant provides you with a promise of a rapid turnaround time. There are several factors that can influence the timing of an EIS, only some of which can be accounted for prior to initiating work on your project. Factors influencing timing will include:

1. The time of the year/season in which you have initiated the study.

An EIS will almost always require a ‘site visit’, i.e., an on-the-ground inventory of natural features to inform the assessment of potential development impacts. While one site visit may be sufficient, it may be necessary to undertake multiple site visits to adequately characterize environmental constraints to the satisfaction of approval agencies. This is determined through an agency consultation exercise known as ‘scoping’ (see article here on costs and scoping of an EIS). If you initiate an EIS in the winter, it is likely that your consultant will need to wait until the spring to assess the study area within the growing season. If multiple site visits are required, they will likely extend throughout the growing season. Following collection of field data, it will take time to analyze data and potentially consult with agency staff to gather background information.

2. The nature and scale of the proposed development.

Complex development proposals often garner more intensive scrutiny by approval authorities. Generally speaking, the larger the scale of the proposal, the more detailed the EIS should be. Detail equates to additional time on the ground and additional time crafting technical reports.

3. The environmental constraints that are known to occur within the study area.

When development is proposed in or near sensitive environmental features, it is likely that approval agencies/regulatory authorities will require a more intensive study effort to understand the potential impacts to such features. An EIS for proposed development within an urban area may be relatively simple in comparison to a study that is assessing development within a forested area or adjacent to a wetland feature. As noted above, more site visits and greater report detail equates to an overall longer study period.

4. Other environmental constraints that might be identified during the EIS process.

An EIS may begin as a simple process but become more complex due to unexpected occurrences of sensitive features. For example, a site visit may result in identification of a Species at Risk (e.g., Butternut tree), which may then lead to additional requirements for mitigation, legal authorizations, or revisions to development plans.

5. Stage of development design and planning.

The key component of an EIS is the assessment of potential impacts to the natural environment. To assess potential impacts, your consultant will need to understand the details of what you are proposing to do. If there is a delay in completing the development plan, this will likely delay completion of the EIS report. Likewise, if there are unexpected or last-minute changes to the development plan, this will require updates to the report. Your consultant may also require access to other technical information, such as servicing plans (e.g., septic design and layout), grading plans, or stormwater managements plans. If you are waiting for these materials from your consulting engineer, then your environmental consultant is also waiting. Once you circulate the required technical information, it will likely take some time to integrate these into the EIS.

Key Take-aways:

An EIS can take upwards of a year or longer to complete; however, simple projects can be completed in as little as a few weeks. It is best to speak with your environmental consultant about project timing prior to signing the contract. While we do not recommend rushing the process, there may be opportunities to expedite submission of your application by completing a 'preliminary' EIS report (and supplementing with additional technical data in the next appropriate timing window). Aster Environmental Services is committed to providing creative solutions and remaining transparent regarding project timelines. We will provide an initial estimated project schedule based on our understanding of the project; however, we also commit providing updates if/when project timelines change due to the above-listed factors. If there are opportunities to expedite, we will make every effort to complete the project in a timeline that meets your goals and expectations.