Fundamentals: the successes of the environmental assessment
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Rodrigo Ropert and Iván Poklepovic

The Executive Directorate of the Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA) resolved on November 14 to approve the Egaña-Sustainable Community project, from Inmobiliaria Fundamenta. Thus, a significant milestone is reached in the project authorization process, despite the possibility that this decision may be challenged again before the environmental court and then before the Supreme Court.

The essential question of the case refers to whether the construction of the project, which considers four buildings of approximately 30 floors each, significantly alters the quality of life of the inhabitants, as a consequence of the affectation of the luminosity (shadow effect) on existing homes in the area of ​​influence. This discussion is relevant, since if so, it would be appropriate to evaluate the project through an Environmental Impact Study (EIA) and not through an Environmental Impact Statement (DIA), as was done.

“The decision of the Environmental Authority seems correct, since it delimits and gives rationality to the environmental evaluation in relation to urban regulations, avoiding overlaps and contradictions. It is to be hoped that the courts share this interpretation, maintaining the authorization of the project”.

It should be noted that the evaluation of projects through a DIA is the general rule and only if there are significant environmental effects on people or natural or cultural resources is an EIA appropriate. The difference between one instrument and the other is substantial, both in terms of preparation and implementation costs, since EIAs must define mitigation, compensation and repair measures for significant impacts that occur.

To resolve this case, the SEA considered that lighting issues are regulated by urban regulations through the height and slope rules, regulations that have an environmental nature, complementary to the Environmental Impact Assessment System (SEIA) and that it is sufficient to rule out significant adverse effects for the urban environment in relation to neighboring properties.

The decision of the Environmental Authority seems correct, since it delimits and gives rationality to the environmental evaluation in relation to urban regulations, avoiding overlaps and contradictions. It is to be hoped that the courts share this interpretation, maintaining the environmental authorization of the project.

Finally, the underlying question here, and in other similar cases, is how to reduce environmental conflicts and litigation. An alternative is to create mechanisms for early citizen participation, prior to the evaluation in the SEIA. This is explained by the fact that the current procedures for citizen participation, both for EIAs and DIAs, take place when the projects or activities are already defined, with little room for modifications proposed by the community.

Although early participation for large projects has already been proposed in various instances (Territorial Dialogue Agency proposed by Alianza Valor Minero, 2018 and SEIA Modernization Bill, 2018) without great progress, it may be time to resume this idea, which would not only provide greater certainty to large investment projects, but also greater guarantees to the community.

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