Next steps in sustainable soil management

Future implementation of best management practices across Ontario
Thursday, November 6, 2014
By Rebecca Melnyk

Since the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) introduced a web-based soil-matching service last year, responding to the need for sustainable dig and dump alternatives, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has finalized its complementary best management practices for moving soil.

As repurposing soil is currently an unregulated activity, successful implementation of and training in these best practices are now underway across Ontario, potentially leading to policy changes and new by-laws that enforce the beneficial reuse of soil.

Al Durand, project manager of the free RCCAO soil-matching initiative called Supporting Ontario Infrastructure Investments & Lands (SOiiL), recently spoke at the 2014 Brownfields conference to emphasize the need for a better process that helps good technology become adopted.

“This is very difficult to regulate, because of massive volumes involved and lack of hard regulation,” he said. “It’s up to industry and people involved in soil movement to self-regulate and come up with a better way to do all this.”

With Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) executing multiple construction projects, not only are there environmental risks associated with moving contaminated soil, but the number of trucks on the highways contributes to the transit issues.

With the aim to move best practices forward, a number of activities have been completed, such as reports on a lack of municipal soil bylaws, estimated costs which add context to minimal metrics, and best management practices.

According to Dolly Goyette, regional director for the MOECC, the ministry is currently conducting a number of on-site inspections across the province based on a need to determine updates on the best management practices document.

Through the authorization of the Environmental Protection Act, the MOECC will also inspect how well soil is being managed by following up with the site owner, parties involved in excavation, contractors, truck drivers and owners of the receiving site.

The ministry is also looking at supporting a need for a proposed standard soil management municipal by-law to encourage and adopt the use of best management practices.

Along with these goals, there must be supported municipal procurement processes that will require the use of best management practices.

“What this does is level the playing field,” said Durand. “It gets all the people who have tender on municipal business to handle soil the same way. So, a person who has access to a farm field for cheap dumping, doesn’t have an advantage because it’s not the proper process.”

The RCAOO is also looking into assisting with pilot tests and is currently in the process of working with a water main, currently in a construction phase in the GTA.

“There’s a lot of good soil and road betting going to landfills that could be repurposed and reused in other roads,” said Durand. “We got to get a handle on that.”

Such projects will feed into ongoing soil policy and identify regulatory gaps.

Formulizing the tracking process of soil by using technology is another agenda for the ministry and RCAOO, as is identifying the role for qualified professionals in Ontario. With the implementation of new processes, quality professionals need to understand updates on managing soil.

“They’re the best people to determine the appropriate soil categorization in terms of soil quality leaving the site and the site characteristics of where the soil is going,” added Goyette.

And with multi-ministry support from municipal affairs to transportation, municipalities can better implement these practices.

The MOECC is now working with municipal affairs to encourage engagement. In January 2015, they will showcase some uses of best management practices and continue to provide assistance to interested stakeholders and grasp their view on gaps and goals.

Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management.