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In the Sale of Property, Responsibility for Removal and Remediation of Underground Storage Tanks needs to be clear

Written by Stan Berger, Fogler Rubinoff LLP

On January 9, 2020, the British Columbia Supreme Court in Walton v. Warren 2020 BCSC 19 found in favour of the Purchaser when an undiscovered underground storage tank required removal and site remediation following closing. This ruling was given despite the Purchaser having signed off on an inspection report prior to closing. The purchase and sale agreement provided that the Seller had to ensure that any underground storage tank (UST) located on the property be removed and the surrounding soil remediated. The Seller was responsible for all costs. The Seller had to provide written confirmation before the Completion Date from the tank removal contractor and relevant provincial and local authorities that the remediation complied with provincial or local government laws. The Purchaser had to obtain and approve an inspection report 6 weeks before the completion date. The report recommended that a specialist company survey and sweep the property to determine the presence of buried oil tanks. The Purchaser’s realtor arranged for a scan of the property free of charge. This was followed by a scanning company’s report stating there was no evidence of any UST. The contract closed on schedule and almost 3 years later the basement of the property flooded. During a necessary drain replacement a UST was discovered requiring its removal and remediation at a cost of $42,000. The Purchaser sued the sellers.

The Judge found that the existence of the UST was unknown to the Seller at the time of the sale. The Seller argued that their obligation with respect to responsibility for any underground storage tank ended upon the closing. The Purchaser completed the purchase being satisfied with the condition of the property. The judge disagreed finding in the Purchaser’s favour.

“[62] There is no language in the Addendum which could be interpreted as limiting the defendants’ obligations only to those USTs that were discovered prior to the Completion Date or to those USTs of which they were aware. [63] The Addendum does not include any conditional language. For example, it does not say that the defendants are to remove and remediate “any oil tank that is discovered prior to the Completion Date” or “any oil tank that they are aware of prior to the Completion Date”.

Moreover the survival clause in the agreement contained no exceptions.

The lesson here is that courts are disinclined to infer any limit on the responsibility of a party when the language in the contract isn’t clear.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.


About the Author

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 37 years. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers, waste management operators, renewable energy operators, receivers-in-bankruptcy, municipalities and First Nations. He was an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto for 8 years, Senior counsel and Deputy Director for Legal Services/Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment for 9 years and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc for 14 years.
He is the author of a quarterly loose-leaf service published by Thomson Reuters entitled the Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences and the editor of an annual review of environmental law.
Mr. Berger was the President of the International Nuclear Law Association (2008-2009) and the founder, and President of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization.

British Columbia launches fund to support cleaner industry, reduce emissions

The Government of British Columbia recently announced that it has created a CleanBC Industry Fund that will invest the money raised through carbon taxes on projects throughout the province.  The province has put $12.5 million into the fund and expects that additional contributions from industry will raise the total fund value to more than $55 million this year.

Provincial funding will support a range of projects throughout  B.C., including new electro-coagulation technology at Harmac Pacific’s employee-owned pulp mill in Nanaimo. The project will improve the waste-treatment process and reduce the use of natural gas to power a bio-mass boiler on site.

“The CleanBC Industry Fund is helping Harmac Pacific improve the way we operate our pulp mill by moving away from fossil fuels and reducing our emissions,” said Levi Sampson, president, Harmac Pacific. “The investment from the Province will help us treat mill waste more efficiently using cleaner technology while supporting good local jobs in Nanaimo.”

Harmac Pacific’s Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) pulp mill near Nanaimo, B.C.

This year’s initial slate of CleanBC Industry Fund projects is expected to reduce approximately 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next decade – roughly the same as taking 250,000 cars off the road for a year. Additional projects will be announced in early 2020 following signing of funding agreements.

To be eligible for funding, CleanBC Industry Fund applicants must have emissions over 10,000 tonnes of CO2e per year and be a reporting facility under the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act. Successful projects were chosen based on a competitive process and an evaluation of detailed project plans, business cases and the potential to cost-effectively reduce emissions.

CleanBC is the province’s pathway to a more prosperous, balanced and sustainable future. It was developed in collaboration with the BC Green Party caucus, and supports the commitment in the Confidence and Supply Agreement to implement climate action to meet B.C.’s emission targets.

The next Request for Proposals (RFPs) is expected to open in early 2020.  Proposals will be evaluated based on criteria described in the RFP, and funding will be awarded to the highest-ranked projects, subject to funding availability. For a Proposal to be considered for funding, an applicant must clearly demonstrate that they meet the requirements as set out in the RFP.

UBC fined $1.2 million for Release of Ammonia-laden Water

The University of British Columbia and CIMCO Refrigeration were recently sentenced for offences committed in violation of the Canadian Fisheries Act, related to a 2014 ammonia-laden water release that ended up in a tributary of the Fraser River.

CIMCO Refrigeration was fined $800,000 after pleading guilty to depositing or permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance into an area that may enter water frequented by fish.

The University of British Columbia was fined $1.2 million after being found guilty of the several offences including the depositing or permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish (Booming Ground Creek) and failing to report the incident in a timely manner.

Screenshot courtesy of Ministry of Justice.

In addition to the fine, the University was also ordered to conduct five years of electronic monitoring of storm-water quality at the outfall where the release occurred.

The University has filed an appeal against these convictions.

Background on the Incident

On September 12, 2014, Environment and Climate Change Canada was contacted regarding an ammonia odour at an outfall ditch connected to Booming Ground Creek in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The source of ammonia was identified as coming from a refrigeration plant at Thunderbird Arena at the University of British Columbia.

CIMCO Refrigeration and the University were completing repairs of the refrigeration system and used a negative pressure device, known as a Venturi, to purge residual ammonia vapours from the system. The mixture of water and ammonia was then discharged into a storm drain at the arena, which flowed to the outfall, through a ditch, and into Booming Ground Creek, which is a tributary of the Fraser River.

Officers and park rangers found approximately 70 dead fish in Booming Ground Creek in the two days following the discharge. The level of ammonia deposited in the water in the storm drain and ditch was analyzed and found to be harmful to fish.

As a result of this conviction, both organizations’ names will be added to the Environmental Offender’s Registry.

Summary of Environmental Enforcement in British Columbia for 2018

The Province of British Columbia recently released its quarterly environmental enforcement summaries for the third and fourth quarters of 2018 to provide transparency on action taken against polluters.

The summaries detail a total of 1,728 environmental enforcement actions taken by the provincial government during this time period, along with $885,907 in associated penalties and fines.

In total, the Province issued 62 orders, 139 administrative sanctions, 31 court convictions, 14 administrative penalties and 2,412 violation tickets totalling $1,092,465 in fines in 2018. The most frequently contravened acts were the Wildlife Act with 1,040 violations, the Fisheries Act (Canada) with 375 violations and the Off-Road Vehicle Act with 344 violations.

To date, nearly 33,000 enforcement actions have been published in the summary and entered into the ministry’s environmental violations database.

Notable enforcement actions, for this period, include:

  • Radium Resort Group Ltd. was fined $200,000 for introducing waste-causing pollution and open burning of prohibited construction materials. Of that total, $190,000 was directed to Habitat Conservation Trust Fund.
  • Mackenzie Pulp Mill Corporation received penalties of $81,100 for failure to maintain a recovery boiler and failing to comply with permit limits for bivalent sulphur compounds and particulate matter.
  • Canadian Pacific Railway Limited received a penalty for $31,500 for failure to comply with an effluent discharge permit for its rail yard in Golden.
  • Savage Creek Golf Course Ltd. received a penalty of $70,000 for significantly exceeding fill-level maximums, while developing an 18-hole Richmond golf course expansion in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In addition, B.C. conservation officers issued 95 violation tickets related to activities that could spark a wildfire in the third quarter of 2018. The Province has taken a strong stance to protect forests and communities in the face of one of the worst fire seasons in British Columbia’s history, with more than 1.3 million hectares burned. Fines for these violations were $1,150 each and totaled $108,900 during this same period.

To view the full quarterly environmental enforcement summary, visit British Columbia Natural Resource Compliance & Enforcement website.

British Columbia’s New Groundwater Protection Model

The British Columbia Ministry of Environmental Protection and Sustainability recently posted a renewed version of the Province’s Groundwater Protection Model (GPM). The latest model version has been posted to the ministry’s webpage at: Policies & Standards – Province of British Columbia. Users will need to download the new model version to conduct calculations under Protocol 2 – Site-Specific Numerical Soil Standards (SSS) and Protocol 13 – Screening Level Risk Assessment.

Questions regarding the GPM and associated Technical Guidance 13 should be directed to [email protected] and[email protected].

Also, the B.C. Environment Ministry has posted a draft version of seventeen new analytical methods for public comment. The analytical methods can be found at “Methods Posted for Review”.

Public comment on the new methods will be accepted until June 17, 2019. All public comments should be direct to  Joyce Austin, Senior Provincial Laboratory Specialist, Knowledge Management Branch at [email protected].

Technical questions regarding the proposed new methods should be directed to Mark Hugdahl (BCELTAC Chair) at[email protected].

Environmental Liability Risk Faced by Directors of Dissolved Companies – Getting around the Gehring Defence

Written by Una Rodaja, Harper Grey LLP

Once upon a time, you were a director of a company that owned a parcel of land in the Greater Vancouver area.  A dry-cleaner and an auto-repair shop operated on the property, but you were not too concerned about environmental liability.  This was the 80s after all and the rent was good!  Your tenants caused some environmental contamination, which you addressed when your company sold the site in 1990.  You dissolved your company a year later and forgot all about it.

The property is now owned by a developer who is seeking to build a residential tower on the property.  To do so, the developer is required to investigate and remediate contamination that remained on the property after your company sold it.  Standards have changed and the limited remediation your company did years ago no longer meets the applicable standards.  Your old tenants (both sole proprietorships) are long gone and the developer is seeking to hold you personally liable for the costs of remediation.  You did not personally operate on or own the property, so are you really at risk?  A recent BC Supreme Court case says you are.  Here we explain how and why.

Directors of existing corporations are “responsible persons”

Under BC’s Environmental Management Act[1], a director or officer of a company that owns or operates on, or has historically owned or operated on, a contaminated site is a “person responsible for remediation” of that site simply by virtue of their position with the company.[2]  Such directors and officers can be liable to pay reasonable costs of remediation incurred by anyone in respect of the site owned or operated on by their company, if they authorized, permitted or acquiesced to the activity that gave rise to the cost of remediation.[3]

Directors of dissolved corporations are not “responsible persons”

Although the language establishing the categories of “responsible persons” under BC law is very broad, it is not without limit.  For example, it does not include “persons” who have ceased to exist, such as dissolved corporations.  This was made clear by the BC Supreme Court in a seminal decision called Gehring[4].  The case has undoubtedly motivated many corporate dissolutions by directors and officers seeking to shield themselves from personal liability for contaminated sites owned or operated on by the companies they served.

Dissolved companies can be restored – then what?

However, in the recent decision of the BC Supreme Court in Foster v. Tundra Turbos Inc.[5], a director of a long-dissolved corporation that owned and operated on contaminated land faced exposure in an action to recover environmental remediation costs by virtue of an application to restore the company to the corporate registry.  The company in question, Tundra Turbos Inc., was incorporated in 1978, and was dissolved in 2000.  Prior to its dissolution, it had a single director, one Mr. Clarke. The Plaintiff sought to hold Mr. Clarke liable for the costs of remediation incurred in respect of the property, some 17 years after Tundra had dissolved.  The question before the court was whether it was appropriate to restore Tundra and reconstitute Mr. Clarke’s directorship to make it possible for Tundra and Mr. Clarke to be liable for the costs incurred by the Plaintiff in remediating the property owned by Tundra in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Tundra and Mr. Clarke presented several arguments against the restoration, including that Mr. Clarke would lose the Gehring defence, a substantive right, and that Tundra’s records pertaining to its operations at the property were destroyed, given the length of time involved.  The court rejected these arguments and ordered the restoration.

In the court’s view, there was nothing inherently unfair in the fact that companies and directors may be exposed to liability under BC’s environmental legislation many years after their association with a contaminated property ended.  Further, the right of a company and its directors to avoid liabilities for which they would have been exposed but for the dissolution is not the kind of right protected by legislation.  In fact, a legitimate purpose of restoring a company is to facilitate the imposition of such liabilities.  While destruction of the dissolved company’s records may, in certain circumstances, result in the court rejecting an application to restore, in Tundra’s case there was no prejudice arising from the loss of records because it was clear, on the facts, that had Tundra not been dissolved, it would have been responsible for the costs of remediation.  If anything, the lost records caused more prejudice to the Plaintiff than Tundra’s director, Mr. Clarke, who had personal knowledge of Tundra’s activities on the site.

In addition, the fact that Mr. Clarke could potentially face personal liability even without Tundra being restored (on the basis that he personally had the right to control, was in control of or responsible for any operation on the site in question) did not have a bearing on the restoration application.  The court recognized that it was easier to hold Mr. Clarke liable if he was responsible solely by virtue of his status as director, which could only be done if the company was restored.

Implications of the Tundra Decision

The Tundra case is an important example of creative counsel work to get around the Gehringdefence.  However, notwithstanding the outcome in that case, there are arguments to be made in future cases to avoid the restoration and, ultimately, responsible persons status for the director in question.  Existence of a limitation defence and loss of evidence that would assist in the defence of the director in question, or unreasonable delay of the Plaintiff in bringing the restoration application, may well result in the application being denied.

For lawyers advancing cost recovery claims, the Tundra case is a good reminder of the need to look at dissolved corporations and their directors and officers, and the need to apply for restoration, in a timely fashion.  For those defending these claims, and restoration applications, finding prejudice, beyond the mere loss of the Gehring defence, will be key.

[1] S.B.C. 2003, c. 53 (“EMA”)

[2] EMA, ss. 39(1), 45

[3] EMA, ss. 47(5); Contaminated Sites Regulation, s. 35(4)

[4] Gehring v. Chevron Canada Ltd., 2006 BCSC 1639, para. 55

[5] Foster v. Tundra Turbos Inc., 2018 BCSC 563

About the Author

Una Rodaja is a partner in Harper Grey’s Commercial Litigation and Environmental Regulation & Disputes practice groups. Una frequently lectures on various aspects of contaminated sites law for the Pacific Business and Law Institute, BC Environmental Industry Association, the Environmental Managers Association, and the BC Continuing Legal Education Society.  She is the co-author of BC Environmental Management Legislation and Commentaryand the recipient of the 2017 Lexpert® Leading Lawyers Under 40 award. Una is recognized by the 2018 Canadian Legal Lexpert® Directory as a Leading Lawyer to Watch in the area of corporate commercial litigation and by Benchmark Canada® as a Future Litigation Star. She has also been recognized by Best Lawyers® in Canada 2019 as a “Leading Lawyer in the area of Environmental Law.

British Columbia intends to improve waste soil relocation regulations

by Max Collett, Norton Rose Fulbright

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in British Columbia intends to bring forward legislation to better regulate excess soil relocation, including waste soils, and reduce deposit of soils in landfills.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has for years been aware that certain participants in the soil and waste transport and relocation industry have not been complying with the current regulations, which are reliant on source site and recipient site owners entering into a Contaminated Soil Relocation Agreement (CSRA) with the ministry.

In January 2019 the ministry issued a final policy recommendation with a series of proposed substantive amendments to the soil relocation regulations and legislation. The following are notable features of the new regulations:

  • Distinguish between soils and waste soils, and regulate the relocation of waste soils. Waste soil is to refer to soil that possesses a substance concentration greater than the lowest applicable industrial land use standard
  • Remove the requirement for a CSRA (a positive development as execution of these agreements was time consuming)
  • Introduce notification and certification requirements:
    • require that the applicant deliver advance notification to local governments as well as “indigenous groups” in the area of both source and receiving sites. (To date, the ministry has not given any indication how an applicant will be able to identify the applicable indigenous groups, which is not always obvious in areas of overlapping claims and interests)
    • require that the applicant complete chemical characterization and vapour assessments for certain waste soils and obtain certification by approved professionals. Certifications will be subject to random audits. (The introduction of approved professionals and audit verification should be a positive development and enable applicants to better control the soil relocation process and associated project scheduling. This process will be similar to that undertaken for independent remediation of contaminated sites)
  • Amend the Environmental Management Act to provide for administrative monetary penalties if soil relocation requirements are not met
  • Potentially add new requirements for landfills and high-volume receiving sites.

The ministry intends to seek government approval for these amendments in 2019. We will provide a further update once it is confirmed whether the province approves the recommendations and tables specific legislative and regulatory amendments for approval.


This article was published with permission of the author. It was first posted on the Norton Rose Fulbright website.

About the Author

Max Collett provides quality, timely and practical advice to public and private sector clients on all legal matters pertaining to complex commercial real estate development and environmental law. He assists developers, First Nations economic development companies, governmental agencies and health authorities, amongst others, to structure the ownership of projects, and acquire, finance, construct, operate and sell institutional, industrial, commercial and residential developments. He has extensive experience with legal matters pertaining to the management or redevelopment of contaminated, brownfield sites. Mr. Collett is counsel on a diverse range of projects, from complex mixed-use strata developments, complex commercial developments, health care facilities to joint venture developments on First Nations lands. He regularly assists on institutional projects undertaken pursuant to public-private partnerships. Mr. Collett also advises commercial and industrial clients on all aspects of regulatory compliance with environmental laws.

British Columbia: Invitation to Participate: Land Remediation Client Survey

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is requesting the assistance on B.C. environmental professionals to complete a survey regarding the suite of contaminated site services provided by the Land Remediation Section.  The survey is part of an internal Ministry effort to examine and evaluate the ways in which contaminated sites services are provided in support of administering the Environmental Management Act and Contaminated Sites Regulation, and feedback will inform efforts to improve the client experience in obtaining these services.

The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, allowing for more or less time depending on how many or few contaminated sites services you use. The survey is open for approximately 6 weeks, and will close on September 5, 2018.

Questions regarding the survey can be forwarded to [email protected].

 

Snapshot of the Canadian Brownfields Programs

As reported by Don Proctor in The Daily Commercial News, the federal government has an important role to play in supporting brownfield development, suggests a recent report authored by third-year undergraduate Ryerson University students working on behalf of the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN).

“There is a sense among industry professionals and academics that the industry as a whole has not progressed as much as it should,” said one of the students, David Sturgeon, at the CBN’s annual conference held recently at the downtown Toronto university campus.

Map of Brownfield Sites in Regina, Saskatchewan

The students conducted a broad snapshot of federal brownfield programs, highlighting cleanup and best practices.

Sturgeon said the student team organized a three-tier rating scoresheet for each province’s progress on brownfields. B.C., Ontario and Quebec got the highest marks. Quebec is a leader because of its incentives-based cleanup programs. One initiative offers 70 per cent funding for onsite remediation work.

Quebec also has an accessible and up-to-date brownfield site inventory, which is a step ahead of other provinces, Sturgeon told delegates.

While the country’s three most populous provinces scored high, the students ranked Alberta lower down, closer to the middle tier.

“It (the Alberta government) has made quite a bit of progress towards cleanup in the last couple of decades,” Sturgeon said. “But where they struggle is helping developers to act sooner than later on idle or vacant contaminated sites.”

The student team was led by Chris De Sousa, the vice-president of the CBN and a professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University. De Sousa said the study compiled extensive information on brownfields from federal, provincial and territorial governments. Also reviewed were provincial stakeholder groups and comparisons were made with the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Reanne Ridsdale, a Ryerson PhD student, conducted research into actual practice versus the objectives outlined in the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), founded in the late 1980s. For a survey of about 6,500 brownfield remediated sites across Canada, Ridsdale polled 80 participants, including environmental consultants, government officials, several lawyers and financiers.

Eighty-five per cent of those polled said brownfields were a medium to high priority in their organization.

She said 59 of the 80 respondents indicated Canada would benefit from a national fund for brownfield redevelopment. The top three developmental barriers indicated by respondents deal with remediation costs and lack of information available on site conditions, Ridsdale said.

The survey also supported the CBN as a national organization but some respondents were negative because the CBN does not receive federal funding so its scope is limited.

“We are a little bit eastern-centric,” which is probably because of the lack of funding, Ridsdale told delegates, adding the survey results will be published as part of a white paper this summer.

Angus Ross, chairman of L and A Concepts, chaired two government task forces on brownfields, including one that created the National Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy for Canada in 2003. The findings were not the last word on brownfields “but they did a tremendous job in kickstarting the entire brownfield file in Canada,” he said.

Ross, who was appointed by the federal government in 1996 to head the NRTEE and in 2004 to chair the CBN’s advisory panel, said brownfields became “a household word” in the early 2000s through media reports on the NRTEE.

“We got very immediate provincial and municipal buy-in,” he told delegates at the conference.

Hamilton Waterfront

BCEIA 2018 Environment Industry Guide Now Available

The eighth edition of the British Columbia Environment Industry Guide is your doorway to an industry sector that is growing faster than the economy as a whole – a sector full of opportunity for a new generation of highly skilled and educated workers.

Our industry provides the services and support needed to protect our natural and social environments in a period of rapid expansion.

Download the pdf version here or request a copy be mailed to you by contacting Kate MacDonald at [email protected].

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