Assembling the Response Team. Responding to comments can be an intense, time-consuming effort, especially when the project schedule leaves little time to develop responses prior to publication of the Final EIS. One way to help expedite the development of responses is to identify a core team responsible for coordinating the development of responses and have the team begin working together on logistical issues even before the comment period begins.
Developing Comment Categories. Based on the public outreach that occurs prior to publication of the Draft EIS or EA, it may be possible to anticipate the types of issues that may be raised in the comments. Using this information, the response team can prepare an initial list of comment categories, which can be used to track comments as they are received and to assign those comments to appropriate members of the project team. The categories can be updated or refined as needed when comments are actually received.
Addressing Technology and Work-Flow Issues. For projects with a high volume of comments, agencies often use a comment database or spreadsheet to compile comments and assemble draft responses. If a database will be used, it should be set up and tested before the comment period begins. In addition, the response team should map out the process steps that will be followed when comment letters are received—from initial intake through development and review of the response. Having a well-defined plan will help to avoid missteps or confusion when the comment letters actually arrive. It will also help to highlight any schedule concerns, such as the need to lengthen the schedule to allow sufficient time to prepare responses.
Determining Criteria for Elevated Review. Among the many comments received on a typical NEPA document, there may be some that require elevated review within the project team due to the sensitivity or complexity of the issues raised. For example, comments that directly question the legal sufficiency of the document generally warrant review by the agency’s legal counsel. The project team should develop criteria for identifying comments that require elevated review and determine the process for promptly circulating those comments to the relevant team members.
Identifying Any Lead Agency Preferences. Project team members with responsibility for developing the responses to comments should reach out to the lead agency in advance of the comment period to determine if the lead agency has any specific preferences that will need to be followed. For example, the Federal agency may have a preference regarding the format used for presenting the comments and responses in the Final EIS or may request that certain types of comments be provided to the agency’s legal counsel for review.
Synchronization with Comment Periods under Other Laws. Consider whether the NEPA comment period will occur in parallel with comment periods under other Federal laws, such as Section 404 or Section 4(f), or comment periods under state or local laws. If multiple comment periods will occur simultaneously, develop a schedule showing the overlap of each period. In general, while it is not always possible, it is a good practice for comment periods to conclude on the same date, which reduces the potential for confusion on the part of the public.
Proactive Outreach to Stakeholders. Comments on a NEPA document sometimes raise issues or concerns that could have easily been addressed in advance through better public outreach. For example, property owners may use the comment process to ask questions or raise concerns about the right-of-way acquisition process. By anticipating those concerns and addressing them effectively in advance, the project team may be able to reduce the total volume of comments received, making the process as a whole more efficient.AASHTO PH 02 pdf download.