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10 THINGS YOU SHOULD DO ON A SITE INSPECTION
CONSIDERATIONS FOR EAPs WHEN OUT IN THE FIELD DURING EIA
IMPORTANCE OF FIELD INSPECTIONS
Site or field inspections allow Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) an opportunity to get a practical perspective of a proposed project and allow them to visualize the project and how it may impact on the receiving environment.
It also allows the EAP to collect or assimilate important qualitative and quantitative data for use in the EIA process.
It may also be an opportunity to interact face-to-face with some of the project team members.
10 THINGS TO DO ON A FIELD INSPECTION
Apart from taking plenty of water, sunscreen and the requisite security precautions, here are 10 things to do on a site or field inspection.
Carry a notebook and pencil to make field notes and observations. Always indicate the date and time on those notes. Notes always come in handy during report writing.
If you can afford it, carry along a voice recorder or dictaphone and make voice notes. These days you can even use your smartphone to record voice notes.
Carry maps, plans, route maps or field maps.
Firstly, these would come in handy in trying to access the site or facility - particularly if you are old-fashioned and don’t trust GPS or your smartphone’s mapping app !
Secondly, maps and plans help you visualise the proposed development in relation to the site and most importantly, they enable you to visualise the potential environmental impacts.
This is stuff you would not have picked up while sitting at your desk.
Be prepared to take photographs, so either carry a digital camera or be prepared to use your smartphone. I’m not referring to selfies here, but good quality and meaningful photographs which will be included in the EIA report and photos which will assist in the assessment.
Remember that you are documenting the receiving environment and capturing the current environmental context of the site and surrounds.
Before entering the site, and where possible, stop at a suitable vantage point (e.g. Top of a hill or a ridge overlooking the site) which allows you to observe the entire site from a distance.
Take note of what you see, as well as of what borders the site, or what is adjacent to the site.
Make observation of the landscape and the viewshed. You should by now begin to develop an idea of how the proposed development would impact on the receiving environment.
If you are lucky and work for a client or department that can afford a helicopter ride over the site, this should give you a pretty good aerial view of the site and surrounds.
This is most beneficial during field inspections for linear infrastructural projects such as pipelines and powerlines.
Take note of any sensitive receptors in close proximity to the site, such as schools, hospitals, or old age homes; or sources of existing pollution or adverse environmental impacts, such as polluting industries, landfill sites, or polluted watercourses.
What’s bordering the project site is just as, if not, more important, than what’s on the project site.
Take note of the environmental , social and economic attributes surrounding the site.
By now you should be developing a prima facie opinion of the proposed project and how it will impact on the receiving environment.
Also take note of any identifiable natural habitats within or in proximity to the site such as forests, wetlands, estuaries, grasslands or other biodiversity attributes.
If you are not a natural scientist, or are not accompanied by your biodiversity specialist or ecologist, you would want to take particular note of the natural habitats prevalent on and surrounding the site.
This should give you an idea of what further ecological studies or assessments you may require during the EIA.
Take special note of any recent damage to the site or construction activity which may have commenced. In such cases, it could be that the developer has committed an offence by starting construction without authorization.
The ethical thing to do would be to report such incidents to the authorities and caution and/or advise your client on the possible consequences.
Also, make it a point to note the surrounding communities, residents and homesteads and maybe pay a visit or conduct a drive through the neighbourhood and make notes on what you see.
You may witness poverty and unemployment and ineffective municipal services as well as substandard environmental health conditions;
or you may witness gated housing estates with high walls and fancy cars;
or you may witness how the community subsists by utilizing the natural resources of the area.
You might as well try to engage with the locals informally. This would help you and the team devise appropriate public participation and engagement strategies, by taking into account the languages spoken, level of education, economic/income levels and traditional or cultural practices prevalent in the communities.
If you have the client with you and their professional team, this would be an appropriate time to ask a lot of questions of clarity.
If you manage to interact with the local communities, NGO’s or personalities - ask appropriate questions which would help you elicit more information on the type of community, their issues and concerns and their current social, economic and environmental circumstances.
On completion of the site inspection, compile a site inspection report containing the date and time of the inspection, and details of the attendees.
Your report should include generally what was observed on site, any specific observations and some notes on attributes of the site which could be adversely affected by the proposed project.
So, there you are, the 10 things you should do on a field inspection.
Field inspections also provide an opportunity to get out of the office and get some fresh air and to take gratuitous selfie pics !
But more importantly, field inspections allow you, the EAP, to conduct a more meaningful assessment of the proposed project and receiving environment.