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Is Ontario “Open for Business” when it comes to Excess Soil Management?

by  Grant Walsom, XCG Consultants

Since the 2013 call for a review in the regulatory gaps surrounding the ability for enforcement on mismanagement of excess soils in Ontario, the Ministry of Environment (now called Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks – MECP) has tirelessly worked towards a proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package for Ontario.  The efforts have included an unprecedented process of stakeholder listening sessions, consultations and engagement group meetings and inter-Ministerial reviews over the past 5 years.

The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory Package was formed through 2 separate postings on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) and is reportedly ready for Cabinet Approval.  Further, the regulatory package is formulated with general overall acceptance by the construction and development industry in Ontario as well as the supporting industries (i.e., legal, consulting, laboratories) and municipalities.  It is generally agreed that the proposed Regulation outlines possible opportunities for beneficial reuse with sustainable considerations (examples would be reduced truck traffic and reduced greenhouse gases creation).

We are coming to understand that the current Conservative Provincial Government is strongly opposed to a majority of initiatives created by the previous Liberal Government.  The Conservatives are in favour of the red-tape reduction, streamlining operations and fiscal responsibility.  In fact, there is now a Deputy Minister of Red Tape and Regulatory Burden Reduction in the Ontario Cabinet.  His job is to make Ontario “Open for Business.”  Any new Regulation such as those being reviewed by MECP could certainly be viewed as counter-productive in terms of red-tape reduction.    However, with the release of the Made-in- Ontario Environment Plan on November 29, 2018, it appears that Excess Soil Regulation will be enacted in some form in the not-to-distant future.  There will no doubt be some changes to the proposed Regulatory package, but it is good to see that Regulation will proceed.

To date, one of the biggest challenges that the enforcement regime of the Environment Ministry had was the gap in how excess soil (impacted with contaminants or not) could be classified as a “waste material” if it’s not managed properly or if it’s illegally dumped.  We have all seen the extensive media coverage of a number of illegal dump sites, innocent property owners mislead on the quality of the fill they are accepting, and private air-fields who have capitalized on the regulatory gaps in Ontario where excess soil is concerned.  Enforcement against illegal dumping or misrepresentation of the soil quality is not clear or easily achieved under the current Environmental Protection Act and regulations such as Regulation 347 (Waste Management).  Minor amendments to Regulation 153/04 (Brownfields Regulation) have also been proposed to assist in streamlining and simplifying filing of Records of Site Condition and redevelopment of Brownfield properties.  Further definitions of soil, waste and inert fill are also forthcoming in the new proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package.

One of the main benefits of the proposed Excess Soil Regulation is the clarity it provides in the expectations of appropriate management of excess soil along with the steps that would be followed to provide the level of certainty that the public would expect.  It puts a heavy onus on the generator of the excess soil (or the source site) to assess the quality against a set of new standards.  The Standards were developed as a subset of the O. Reg. 153/04 Brownfield Standards, aimed at assisting in identifying acceptable and beneficial re-use of the excess soil.

Beneficial reuse of excess soil has a strong consideration for soil quality in terms of chemical testing to assess for contaminants; however, Ontario soils are highly variable with respect to the geotechnical quality for engineered reuse (i.e., silt, clay, sands, gravels and poor quality mixed fill).  Recovered excess soil may require some screening/grading to classify the geotechnical qualities prior to identifying an appropriate engineered and beneficial reuse.  Market-based solutions and opportunities for excess soil supply and demand services are sure to be identified as creative Ontarians have historically shown innovation in finding geotechnical solutions for excess soil.  The new regulatory package allows for this to happen to the benefit of both sender and receiver parties. Increasingly, clients are also choosing to avoid moving soils by employing methods to limit or even eliminate the amount of soils that have to be moved from a poor fill site with things like landscaped architectural features or ground improvement to treat soils in place.

Another benefit of the proposed excess soil regulation is the placement of the responsibility to ensure and “certify” the quality of the excess soil and the appropriate handling and re-use of the material by the source site or generator.  This requires a shift in the thinking around management of any excess soil materials to be assessed and pre-planned at the beginning of a project, versus at the last minute and left to the excavation contractor, as has historically been done.  The shift in thinking and pre-planning may take time, but with the assistance of the “Qualified Person” community in Ontario, the planning can be simplified.  The industry is already starting to shift to a more responsible management of excess soils, with the knowledge of potential Regulatory changes. The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package has a well-defined transition period of two full years to be fully enacted, giving the construction and development industry time to become used to the shift in thinking and pre-planning as well as the procurement groups to ensure that the appropriate assessment and characterization activities are completed.

The benefits of many aspects of the proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package are clear and are desired in Ontario.  The business community has hoped that the current Conservative Government in Ontario understands that the Excess Soil Regulatory package has been requested by the citizens of Ontario, and formulated through an exhaustive consultation and engagement of the various stakeholders in the Province. It has also been hoped that the current Provincial Government sees the value in many aspects of the proposed regulatory package for management of excess soils.  With reference to Excess Soil Regulation in the Environment Plan, it certainly appears that the current Provincial Government does see the value.  Further, the complimentary minor amendments to the soil and waste definitions are needed as are the proposed amendments to the Brownfield Regulation.

Since the June 2018 election, the construction and development industries in Ontario have been patiently waiting for clarity on how the current Provincial Government plans to proceed.  It is clear that this new legislative change will help to make Ontario open for business and it appears that the current Provincial Government agrees.  We will now see what changes to the proposed Regulatory Package will be made, hopefully, sooner than later.

This article was first published in the Geosolv website.

About the Author

Grant Walsom, P.Eng., is a Partner at XCG Consulting Limited and recognized as a Qualified Person in Ontario under the Record of Site Condition Regulation (O. Reg. 153/04). He proudly serves on the Board of Directors at the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) and the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN). Grant can be reached at grant.walsom@xcg.com.

Are you ready for Ontario’s Excess Soil Management Regulation Changes?

by David Ngugan, Staff Writer

A breakfast and seminar session organized by ECOH Management Inc. was held on June 20th in Mississauga, Ontario.  The seminar included a presentation by Vice President Jeff Muir titled “Digging Deep – Are you ready for Ontario’s Excess Soil Management Regulation Changes?” about the upcoming changes to the Excess Soil Management Regulations. He spoke about the implications of the new regulations, including cost, the depletion of sites with capacity to accept waste soils, illegal dumping and lack of tracking, and inconsistent oversight and criteria for the management of excess soils.

Jeff Muir, VP Environmental, EHOS

Jeff spoke about the current 2014 guidelines – “Management of Excess Soil – A Guide for Best Management Practices” that gives options for the management of excess soils both onsite and offsite,  as well as best management practices for project leaders. These include having an excess soil management plan to indicate where the soil will go and a sampling and analysis plan, including soil characterization and characterization of the receiving site.

He also pointed out some issues with the guidelines, particularly in the lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for the excess soil, as the term “project leader” is loosely defined. In addition, the requirements for proper characterization of soils are not clearly defined, such as a minimum number of samples required for a specific volume of soil. Jeff added that currently, many receiving sites are usually managed by municipalities that issue permits for the receiving of excess soil, and this presents opportunities for inconsistencies between various sites.

The proposed regulations enhance the responsibility and accountability of the generators of excess soil, as well as requiring an Excess Soil Management Plan (ESMP) for high risk or high volumes of soil. Under the proposed regulations, a ESMP should consist of a description of the project area and description and ownership, the names of qualified persons and contractors, excess soil sampling plan and characterizations, a list of receiving sites, a soil tracking system, and a record of the cumulative amount of soil moved.  The new regulations will also establish a registry where ESMPs will be submitted.

Jeff concluded his presentation by stressing the importance of preplanning – have all the costs, receiving sites, and estimated volumes of soil prepared ahead of time, as well as to focus on working with ESMPs well ahead of the promulgation of the regulations.  It is anticipated that the regulations will be promulgated this calendar year.

Ontario Graphite Ltd. Subject to Control Order Issued by Environment Ministry

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) recently issued an Emergency Director’s Order to Ontario Graphite Ltd. (OGL) related to its mining site in Butt Township, Kearney, Ontario.  An Emergency Director’s Order is issued when the MOECC is of the opinion that inaction of a situation can result in one or more of the following: danger to the health or safety of any person; harm or serious risk of harm to the environment; or injury or damage or serious risk of injury or damage to any property.

Under an Emergency Order, immediate actions and environmental actions must be taken to protect the natural environment and to prevent or reduce the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment from the undertaking or property, or to prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse effect.

Photo Credit: NorthBayNipissing.com

Kearney is a town and municipality in the Almaguin Highlands region of Parry Sound District of Ontario, Canada.  With a landmass of 531 square kilometres and a year-round population of 882 in the Canada 2016 Census, Kearney claims to be the “Biggest Little Town in Ontario.”  Butt Township was amalgamated with the Town of Kearney in 1979.

Since the issuance of Director’s Order Amendment No. 1 Ontario Graphite Limited (OGL) has reported to the MOECC multiple exceedances of discharge limits specified in the Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) issued for the Kearney Mine industrial sewage works and Ontario Regulation 561/94 (i.e. including exceedance of limits for acute toxicity to test organisms Rainbow Trout and Daphnia magna, iron, total suspended solids and pH).

As requested by the MOECC, OGL proposed a short term management action plan to address the effluent discharge limit exceedances from the polishing pond until such time that construction can be completed on the industrial sewage works to enhance treatment efficiency once approved by the MOECC through an ECA amendment. OGL further indicated to the MOECC that an application to amend the ECA for necessary modifications to the industrial sewage works is currently being prepared.
Following the MOECC’s review of the short term management action plan and monitoring data submitted by OGL, the MOECC is concerned that measures proposed by OGL will be insufficient in achieving adequate treatment until such time that construction and operation of the proposed modification to the industrial sewage works, subject to the planned application and subsequent approval by the MOECC, if issued, are completed.

Currently, the lime dosing system being used at the Kearney Mine as part of the existing industrial sewage works operation is operated on a batch basis over, typically, an eight hour period during daylight hours.  The enhanced pH monitoring and reporting required by the January 31, 2018 Director’s Order amendment has demonstrated that the pH of the discharge is not consistently meeting the required pH range over a 24 hour period.  Therefore, the MOECC is directing that the operation of the batched system be extended over a daily, 24-hour period to ensure compliance with pH at all times.

In addition to adjusting the lime dosing system the MOECC is ordering a contingency plan be developed to including the use of an approved mobile treatment unit to ensure adequate treatment is achieved if proposed measures are not sufficient in achieving compliance with all discharge water quality limits until such time that modifications, approved through an amendment to the ECA, are implemented.

In summary the Emergency Director’s Order requires OGL to do the following:

  • Conduct an enhanced monitoring program for pH.
  • Ensure that the operation of lime dosing system is supervised by a Qualified Person and that effluent is maintained within a pH range of 6.5 – 8.5 at all times.
  • Retain a Qualified Person to develop and submit a contingency plan to treat the Kearney Mine polishing pond waters.
  • Retain a Qualified Person to submit an amendment to the issued Industrial Sewage Works, Environmental Compliance approval.

The Order was served to the company as well as a number of a company director, the CFO & CAO, and the CEO.