When Do You Need One?
Where matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) are present within or near your site (listed threatened species, threatened ecological communities, lands, waters or species subject to international agreements or treaties including migratory shorebirds, World Heritage Areas, Commonwealth marine areas and Ramsar wetlands) depending on the scale of impact of the proposal it may be necessary to refer your project to the Commonwealth government (an EPBC Act referral) for assessment. Based on the information provided in the referral and from their own investigations, the Commonwealth will determine whether the project is a ‘controlled action’. If it is not a controlled action the project approval process will proceed in accordance with State and local regulations. If it is a controlled action the Commonwealth will provide details of how the project impacts are to be assessed and reported and will either work independently or with the State government (where State matters overlap) to assess the project.
An ecological consultant will not make the decision as to whether a project should be referred but will make a recommendation to the project owner based on the results of an appropriately targeted impact assessment.
A decision from the Commonwealth following referral as to the deemed status of the project is relatively quick. The EPBC Act requires a decision on an assessment to be made within 20 business days from the date the referral is received by the Minister, unless the Minister decides insufficient information has been provided and may stop the clock and request further information.
If a project is deemed to be a controlled action there are five different levels of assessment that may be assigned. The simplest is for the assessment to be made based on the information provided in the referral. Assessment by Preliminary Documentation or Environmental Impact Statement may take from two to several years to complete, depending on the scale and complexity of the project, the nature of the protected matter and the quality of information provided. Heightened public interest in a project may also affect the assessment timeframe.
How We Do It
As part of an Ecological Assessment our ecologists will specifically target known or potential matters of national environmental significance identified during the desktop component of the study. Where guidelines are in place, the extent of occurrence of each matter will be measured in the field against the relevant criteria, such as the threshold criteria for threatened ecological communities, criteria for identification of important habitat for migratory shorebirds and the scoring of Koala habitat to determine its critical status.
Often it is immediately apparent if a project will not require referral, and the relevant recommendation is made in the Ecological Assessment Report with supporting documentation.
If a referral may be required and enough project information is available, the Significant Impact Guidelines for matters of national environmental significance (or other relevant guidelines such as those for migratory shorebirds, Koalas and Flying-foxes) are applied to determine whether there may be any potential significant residual impacts on national matters. In some cases, the assessment results may contribute to further project planning to minimise the identified impacts. This process is an important one and is documented for inclusion in the referral.
It is up to the project owner to decide whether to refer their project and how much ecological information is included with their referral. We would make recommendations as to whether a referral is warranted and what information should be included. If a referral is made, BAAM would prepare or assist in the preparation of the referral documentation.
Where a project requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or a complex request for further documentation that includes matters outside of terrestrial ecological matters, we often work as specialists for larger consultancies by preparing the terrestrial ecology technical documentation and relevant components of the EIS.