The announcement of large-scale projects within or around small and medium-sized communities is typically greeted with excitement from residents and local elites who are often fixated about the economic and image-enhancing prospects of those projects on their community. These expected benefits include, among others, new jobs to inhabitants, increased economic activities, tourism impacts, a broader tax base for local revenue, and enhancements to cultural amenities such as libraries and parks (Edwards, 2000). However, growing concerns about the implications of new developments on public services and infrastructure spending, as well as associated environmental costs (ibid), induced land use changes and resource conflicts, just to mention a few, are increasingly raising uncertainties about the capacity of small communities to handle the full-scale impacts of major developments (Vance, 2010) and thus the social and environmental viability of such projects. These and other concerns, such as the compatibility of project objectives and long-term community goals and cultural values, have generated the need for some technical assessment of the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts of particular interventions to be incorporated into the overall design, planning and appraisal of proposed projects in order to gain some insight about future consequences, and to the extent possible, put in appropriate measures to deal with the negative impacts they may have on affected communities. Consequently, socio-economic impact assessments have become an integral component of project planning and a formal requirement of many project approval processes.
This paper describes how a socio-economic impact technique can be applied to analyze a proposed tourism development, specifically the Jumbo Glacier Resort Project—a proposed year-round ski resort located close to Invermere, a town of about 4,000 residents in the southeastern interior of British Columbia, Canada. This project has dragged for over 15 years because of intense public debate about its potential impact on wildlife, aboriginal land reserves and the economic development of the locality. The scope of this paper is limited to possible social and economic impacts and how they might be analyzed and measured as part of a wider project impact assessment; therefore, it is not an actual assessment of the possible socio-economic impacts of the project, but seeks to provide a guiding framework on how a SEIA can be undertaken for the said project. Similarly, it is not intended to make a judgment about whether or not to proceed with the project based on possible outcomes, neither does it attempt to resolve the controversy over value differences relating to project's benefits and costs. However, the framework provided can be useful to project proponents and planning authorities in thinking about ways of improving aspects of the proposal to meet social concerns. The remainder of this paper is structured into five sections. Section 2, which follows this introduction, addresses the conceptual issues relating to socio-economic impact assessment, including the meaning, importance and kinds of impact included in the process. The key steps involved in undertaking SEIA and the kind of information that will be required at each stage, including where they can be obtained in reference to the project under consideration, are discussed in section 3. Issues such as the timing and estimation of impacts, as well as options for mitigating negative impacts, are also discussed. Section 4 covers the presentation of the results of SIEAs, while section 5 contains the concluding comments.
Socio-economic impact assessment (SEIA) may be defined as a systematic process of predicting, documenting, analyzing and managing the intended and unintended social and economic consequences, both positive and negative, invoked by planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects), including perceived community response to those changes and how they can be addressed (Centre for Good Governance, 2006). The overarching goal, therefore, of SEIA is to provide project proponents, decision makers, communities and others associated with a project essential information regarding the kinds and magnitude of potential or actual contribution—directly or indirectly, beneficial or harmful, immediate and long-term—of a development in a specific geographic area or sector of the society, so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with the project or find effective ways to mitigate, reduce or compensate undesirable outcomes, while enhancing or maximizing positive impacts, if it is given approval. Such information can include the distributional effects of projects, in terms of disproportionate impacts on different social and income groups and communities, which can guide effective resource decision making, planning and investment in order to reduce inequalities and bring about a more sustainable and equitable human society.
SEIA also provides a foundation for assessing the cumulative effects of development on a community’s social and economic resources to facilitate long-term planning (Edwards, 2000). For example, given the large-scale nature of the proposed Jumbo Resort, it is likely that its development will set a precedence for other developments such as large retail establishments, new housing units and offices), which will put a strain on the existing financial, infrastructural and environmental resources of the communities within the Jumbo Creek Valley. Therefore, SEIA will help communities to, ahead of time, gain an understanding of the potential impacts of the resort, so that that they can plan effectively to meet new service demands (e.g. water and sewer systems expansion, new road construction, schools, etc) (Edwards, 2000).
SEIA is a comprehensive process that considers all kinds of issues, which are diverse and often complicated, yet interrelated. These issues include, for example, the types of job skills that will needed for the new development and where the labour will come from; timing of the project; demographics of the additional population increase; land ownership; local lifestyle, as well as related technical analysis of substantive issues (including labour force characteristics, market forecast and demographic projection among others) all of which are beyond the purview of a single individual or department. Consequently, it requires substantial collaboration between all levels of government administration (local, regional and national), ministries and departments (for example, transportation, planning, forestry, housing, community development, school districts and health), utility providers, community leaders and residents. The bringing together of all these stakeholders, each having a unique expertise or experience, to work on a single project, can promote effective project planning and design, while fostering creative solutions to problems that emerge from the proposed development.
In addition, while most SEIAs tend to focus on the avoidance of adverse impacts, they can also provide a platform for planning how to maximize the expected benefits from a proposed project to local communities (Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board, n.d). This could include local hiring policies for project construction, local sourcing of services and density bonus for community amenities and affordable housing. In summary, SEIA can be described as is a study purposely commissioned to determine, for a specific development proposal, what kinds of impacts are likely to occur on the social and economic wellbeing of communities within the vicinity of the project; to assess the significance of these impacts; and to identify measures that may help to avoid or minimize potentially adverse effects (Armour, 2010).
In practice, the timing of SEIA can be before, during and after a project (Davis, 1990). While pre-project or ex-ante studies, the commonest form of SIEAs, are anticipatory, measuring potential outcomes; the value of ex-post or post-project studies lie “in providing a standard by which the success of any ex-ante analysis of the same project can be measured and to generate information regarding the identification and measurement of impacts which may be useful in designing future ex-ante studies” (ibid). In certain cases, through rarely, on-going or In medias res analysis may be conducted when new information can feasibly shift resources to alternative decisions.
 Some analysts use the term 'Social Impact Assessment' (SIA) instead of 'Socio-Economic Impact Assessment' (SEIA) to capture all human or non-biophysical impacts of any intervention, including economic effects, social impacts and its subsets such as cultural, health and demographic impacts. But others argue that this gives a limited view or impression about the kinds of impacts considered under such an assessment, preferring the use of SEIA over SIA, as this conveys a more comprehensive overview about the kinds of impacts covered in non-EIAs, some of which fall outside the strict definition of the term social, despite being human-related. The use of SEIA in this paper, though a tacit endorsement of the latter view, is also meant to avoid any confusion in the minds of those who interpret social impacts strictly to mean the non-economic, non-political and non-environmental consequences of projects. The important point, though, to keep in mind in order to overcome these terminological misconceptions is to understand the specific context in which 'social' is used; this is usually explained in the scope of most impact assessment documents or reports.
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