THE REAL SECRET TO HAVING YOUR SAY ABOUT DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING YOU
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN EIAs
A crucial and often mismanaged component of EIAs is public participation and consultation.
Our environmental laws stipulate that the participation of interested and affected parties (I&APs) must be promoted and that government decisions must take into account the needs, interests and values of all interested and affected parties. Crucially government decisions in environmental matters must be taken in an open and transparent manner.
Being affected by a proposed development or activity means that you have a right to have your say on whether the project should be authorised or refused, as well as a right to information about the proposed development, how it will impact the environment and how it will affect you, your business or your community.
So how do you go about having your say ?
Register as an interested and affected party (I&AP)
Make sure you formally register as an I&AP by sending your details to the environmental assessment practitioner who is handling the EIA.
Attend any public or community meetings arranged as part of the EIA process
For some project EIAs, public meetings are held to consult with the broader public and solicit their views.
In most cases public meetings degenerate into “marketing events” of the proponent, while in other cases these meetings are hijacked for narrow political interests.
So generally, unless these are smaller focus group meetings, you might not get an opportunity to have your voice heard at these meetings.
If you have no other way of contributing your views on the EIA, then you must attend these meetings and make your input.
Otherwise, it is best to make written input.
Comment on the EIA reports
This is by far the most crucial aspect of the EIA process where you must make your input and views known.
Make sure you read the reports and if they are too complicated and use too much jargon, don’t feel intimidated.
Sometimes, these reports are deliberately complicated to put people off from making input. If it is a complicated or highly technical issue, the environmental practitioner has a duty to simplify the information and its associated impacts.
Object to the development
If you are not happy with any aspect of the proposed development, it would be a good idea to record your objection to the development when commenting during the EIA process.
You should raise pertinent and substantive reasons as to why the proposed development should not see the light of day.
Base your reasons on the information (or lack thereof ) contained in the reports.
Check for inconsistencies in the report and raise these as reasons for your objection and include them in your written comment.
Mediation and compromise
Though the EIA process can be confrontational, it is possible for an objector to engage with the developer or environmental practitioner in order to come to a compromise or settlement.