The site for the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) is located in the Coconino National Forest and the Blue Ridge Ranger District approximately 40 miles SE of Flagstaff, AZ. Because the site is within National Forest boundaries, federal law requires a Special Use Permit from the United States Forest Service (USFS) to construct and operate the telescope. The National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, defines the various procedures in applying for and issuing a Special Use Permit. A Special Use Permit may or may not be issued based on the results of the process or may require conditions or alternatives.
NEPA mandates federal agencies (or entities proposing to build on public lands, such as Lowell Observatory) to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. The USFS is the governing agency that oversees the process and ultimately approves issuance of the Special Use Permit. The USFS is responsible for providing details of the requirements and reviewing satisfactory completion of the requirements. At a minimum, the process includes providing a plan of use, an assessment of the current environment, and public input based on the plan and assessments.
There are several possible documents that may be required as part of the NEPA process depending on the size of the project, possible impacts, and potential issues to be addressed. In the case of the DCT project, the USFS required an Environmental Assessment (EA). To meet this requirement in a timely fashion, an environmental contractor specializing in the NEPA process was hired to formally conduct and submit the EA.
The DCT EA project began in October 2003 with the selection of EnviroSystems Management, Inc. of Flagstaff, AZ as the environmental contractor. The year-long process consisted of presenting the plans for initial public review, conducting the archeological and biological studies of the site as required, compiling all data in a draft EA, and presenting the draft EA for public review and comment. In October 2004, the USFS determined that construction and operation of the DCT yielded no significant environmental impact. A Special Use Permit was granted to Lowell Observatory in November 2004 to begin development of the DCT site at Happy Jack.
The EA may be reviewed at the Supervisorís office of the Coconino National Forest, or you may download it directly from this site [1.3 MB PDF].
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