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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 6: Prepare Environmental Documentation

6.3 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)

A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is both the decision by FHWA that the project has no significant impacts and the documentation of that decision. A determination that the project will have no significant impacts is made by FHWA, following consideration of the analysis presented in the EA, consideration of comments on the EA made by agencies and the public, TDOT's selection of the preferred alternative, and any changes in the proposed action based on the comments received.

6.3.1 Preparation of FONSI Document

6.3.1.1 Required Elements

The draft FONSI is prepared by the TDOT Environmental Division planner or a consultant for submission to FHWA as a recommendation.

According to the Technical Advisory, the following items must be incorporated in the FONSI document: 

  • Identification of the preferred alternative and explanation of its selection over other alternatives that were evaluated in the EA;
  • Description of changes in the proposed action and mitigation measures resulting from the comments received, and any impact of the changes;
  • Confirmation of the final mitigation measures for the project (the environmental commitments shall be printed on green paper and included at the front of the FONSI);
  • Any necessary findings, agreements or determinations (e.g., Final Section 4(f) Evaluation and a fully executed Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement); and
  • Discussion of the public and agency comments received and appropriate responses to those comments.

6.3.1.2 Mandatory FONSI Format

In the past, the approved EA document was generally used as the basis for the FONSI document, with the text revised to identify the preferred alternative. The most substantial changes generally occurred in the Summary, Alternatives, and Coordination chapters of the EA. Throughout the document text and on the graphics, however, the name of the alternative chosen was changed to "Selected" or "Preferred" Alternative, and graphics were revised to show the preferred alternative. The coordination chapter included a summary of the public hearing comments.

In 2009, FHWA and TDOT moved toward a more abbreviated format, in which the approved EA is incorporated by reference and technical and other supporting documentation is included in the appendices.

TDOT has developed an electronic template to be used in the preparation of the FONSI document. The FONSI template is a form that allows users to input data and information without having to worry about document formatting and styles. The template provides grey text boxes for inserting project specific information and discussions (i.e., dates, names of agencies, project descriptions). In other areas of the template standardized text is already in place. The template is currently under revision.

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6.3.2 FONSI Approval Process

TDOT submits a draft of the FONSI to FHWA along with a copy of the public hearing transcript and a request that a finding of no significant impact be made.

Following the reviews by FHWA and the cooperating agencies, revisions to the draft FONSI document are made.

The final draft of the FONSI document is then prepared by the planner or consultant and transmitted by TDOT to FHWA, along with a separate original title page for the appropriate FHWA representative to sign and date. Once the FONSI is signed, final copies of the FONSI are printed and distributed.

The FONSI title page includes a statement similar to the following:

The FHWA has determined that this project will not have any significant impact on the human environment. This Finding of No Significant Impact is based on the attached Environmental Assessment, which has been independently evaluated by the FHWA and determined to adequately and accurately discuss the need, environmental issues and impacts of the proposed project and appropriate mitigation measures. It provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining that an environmental impact statement is not required. The FHWA takes full responsibility for the accuracy, scope and content of the attached EA.

As provided in 23 CFR 771.119(h), when FHWA expects to issue a FONSI for an action, a minimum of 30 days is required between the date the EA is made available for review and the date that the FHWA makes its final decision.

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6.3.3 Distribution of the FONSI

Formal distribution of the FONSI is not required. Copies of the signed FONSI are sent to FHWA, to the project's cooperating agencies, and to various TDOT Divisions. An NOA, generally in the form of a letter, must be sent by TDOT to federal, state and local agencies likely to have interest in the action. TDOT also publishes a legal notice in local newspapers in the project area to advertise the availability of the FONSI at a local public library nearest the project area, the TDOT Region Office, and on TDOT's website.

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