The fate of excess soil regulation in Ontario was the topic of a panel discussion during a recent brownfield and excess soils seminar, hosted by the Toronto Construction Association’s environmental committee.
While an Excess Soil Reuse Regulatory Package was released by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change earlier this year, the change in government has delayed the potential implementation of the regulation.
“My understanding is through discussions with them (the policy team) is that they are briefing up…they are sitting in ready mode waiting for direction,” said Grant Walsom, a QP (qualified person) and partner, with XCG Consulting Ltd. “The problem we have — and it’s not really a problem, it’s a setback — is that we had an election in June, a change in government and a change in government means a change in focus. I met with the minister last week (the week of Oct. 15). He has not been briefed yet on the excess soil file.”
Walsom explained the Best Management Practices (BMP) were issued by the provincial government in 2014. Following stakeholder consultation, a framework document was released in 2016 with 21 actions. That led to the draft regulation released in 2017 followed by the regulatory package.
“The one aspect that worries me about the regulation, the current premier is all about cutting red tape,” said Walsom. “He does not want ambiguity, he does not want the province of Ontario to not be competitive with other jurisdictions. It may not fall in that mandate…it may be cut down or reduced in some fashion. That could be the delay.”
Panellists were asked how the BMP changed the way they approach or manage soils on site.
“We have one of the largest fill sites right now in downtown Toronto,” said Meggen Janes, director, soil and groundwater management and brownfield approval with Waterfront Toronto, a tripartite agency reporting to three levels of government. “The excess soil BMP has been integral in developing an excess soil management plan for that operation…understanding that there is a rigorous process in vetting the quality and placement of the fill that’s coming in is really critical to the success of this project.”
Waterfront Toronto considers the concepts from the BMP and the draft excess soil regulation in all of its projects, Janes explained, stating, “We’ve done that because we have such scrutiny over our projects.”
Damian Rodriguez, vice-president, soil operations, GFL Environmental, said when the BMP came into place they developed a software system for managing soils, allowing clients to access information in one place.
Municipalities are now adopting the issuance of fill permits or site plan agreements that are based on the best management practices plan, however, Rodriguez pointed out, there is a disconnect between the source site and the fill site because they do not have the same standards. He used a fill site in Mount Albert, Ont. as an example.
“The problem is that 99 per cent of the submissions to send soil into that site are refused because the analysis type and the analysis frequency did not match up with the best management practices part of the site plan agreement that was established,” Rodriguez explained. “Typical small construction sites that are submitting do not get approved, only the major projects are right now aligning and meeting compliance for that site.”
Ben Morse, head of sales at Tread, said when the BMP was issued, his company received a lot of calls asking for help to manage the data between the parties.
“Being able to know that there is actually a seamless stream of data that’s going from team to team, that information is critical,” said Morse.
“Not having data standardization is a major concern…If we’re all trying to manage our own risk but using different systems to do so and to communicate, how efficient is that?”
Walsom said in the absence of the specific regulation and because BMPs are open to interpretation, his concern is that there will be disagreements between QPs such as a site QP and a municipality’s QP.
“As a QP my first goal is to represent my client,” explained Walsom. “The regulation makes sure that everyone has the same rules and they know what those expectations are so that you don’t get that subjective interpretation from one QP and another QP.”
Rodriguez pointed out one of the biggest challenges has been battles between the QPs, with some taking months to resolve.
Janes said one of the things they are doing is meeting with the construction team at the beginning of the project to discuss the soil management plans, setting out all the information and documentation that is needed.
“We find that without meeting with the contractors initially and laying it all out, it is really difficult to collect that information after the fact. So, start off on the right foot with everybody understanding the requirements,” said Janes.
“We’re struggling a little bit just to get the endorsement of all players involved and making sure everybody is on board with that rigor of the program.”