The provincial government will implement changes over the next five years to streamline low-risk redevelopment projects while enforcing clear rules for soil reuse
By Jackie Clark
Over the next five years, regulations around the reuse of excess soil and redevelopment of brownfield sites will be updated in the province of Ontario, according to a Dec. 4 statement from Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, conservation and parks. Brownfield sites are properties used in the past for industrial or commercial activities that are currently underutilized.
Ontario stakeholders, including conservation and farm groups, submitted comments on the proposed changes to regulations between May 1 and June 17. Some submissions expressed concern over the soil sampling methods, as this information is used to preserve public health and food safety.
"As Ontario's population continues to grow, we need to ensure our valuable resources and prime land don't go to waste," said Minister Yurek in the statement.
"These changes will remove barriers for communities, developers and property owners to clean up and redevelop vacant, contaminated lands and put them back into productive use. This will benefit the local economy and create jobs, and keep good, reusable soil out of our landfills," he said.
The changes will be as follows:
- Reduced regulatory requirements for brownfields redevelopment (including reduced assessment of contaminants in the risk assessment process and flexibility of standards or removal of the requirement for a Record of Site Condition for low-risk redevelopment situations) effective immediately.
- Clarified risk-based standards for safe reuse of excess soil and waste soil management, effective July 1, 2020.
- Explicit requirements for excess soil management plans for development projects (with some exceptions) to be filed in a public registry before any soil leaves the site, as well as improved soil tracking, effective Jan 1, 2022.
- Restricted depositing of clean soil at landfill sites, effective Jan 1, 2025.
The timeline for these changes was determined because “the brownfield related amendments applied to specific low-risk circumstances. Bringing (these regulations) into effect immediately brought benefit to some projects that were ready to proceed,” Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, told Farms.com.
“Other changes that were part of the proposal resulted in new rules, which require time for awareness, education and training, and opportunity to modify related procedures,” he said.
During the consultation process, some stakeholders expressed concerns about the potential for contaminated soil to being used to grow food.
“Soil can be transported for an agricultural activity,” said Wheeler. However, the government amended the regulations with human health and environmental protection in mind, he added.
“The amount of testing required depends on the site from which the soil is being removed. The new regulatory rules set out testing requirements if the soil is being removed from sites that are likely to have contaminants in the soil due to certain past uses, such as industrial use or gas station, or more specific potentially contaminating activities, such as chemical storage,” Wheeler explained.
“Within the rules are standards that apply specifically to agricultural properties, including soil being used to grow plants for crops or pastureland. The standards ensure no negative impacts to agricultural properties and are protective of ground water being used for drinking water,” he added.
Some stakeholders also expressed concern about the scientific methodology of soil testing.
“Many comments were received and many changes were made as a result of those comments. Testing requirements are based on scientific and professional best practices. The regulations also require that this testing and analyses be completed by licensed professional geoscientists and professional engineers,” Wheeler said.
The changes are part of the province’s Made in Ontario Environment Plan, and target reduced cost, waste, and transport distances for excess soil. The government hopes that the updates will improve compliance and enforcement of soil relocation regulations. The government also hopes the changes will benefit “industry and government projects, such as infrastructure projects,” and “property owners, municipalities and other undertakings receiving soil,” Wheeler said.
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