This week, Ontario’s Brownfields Stakeholder Group was delighted to hear that progress is being made on some old problems. For example:
1. Escheats: When a company is dissolved, its remaining assets go automatically to the Crown. As a result, the province ends up (without its knowledge) owning land all across the province, much of it contaminated. To the great frustration of municipalities and others, the province has historically refused to do anything about these sites. By now, there are over 750,000 dissolved companies in Ontario, and perhaps 10,000 or more escheated sites.
The good news? The Ministry of Public Infrastructure and Renewal finally has permission to try to identify which lands have escheated to them. (At the moment, they have no idea.) Over the next year, they will be developing, and maybe even publishing, a list. Once PIR knows that it owns these sites, there should be a better chance that they will do something about them, at least for those sites that are real threats to their neighbours.
2. New Standards: The Ministry of the Environment has admitted that the Contaminated Site cleanup standards it proposed in March were too stringent, and will not be adopted. For example, many criteria were too low for reliable analysis by laboratories. The MOE has agreed that it can relax some criteria, e.g. by:
- not providing strict protection for small burrowing mammals on commercial / industrial sites;
- eliminating duplicate levels of protection against odours;
- increasing the dilution from soil to nose, i.e. allowing for the odour dispersion that occurs in outdoor air;
- providing for the natural breakdown of hydrocarbons that occurs in the ground, and
- generally being less risk averse “where warranted”.
A revised proposal may be ready for further stakeholder review by the spring. However, there could be further delay, to allow the petroleum industry to fund another round of monitoring of the “background” levels of volatile organics. The industry believes that current MOE data underestimates these levels, and therefore would produce an excessively stringent Schedule 1.
3. Offsite Migration: The MOE is starting work on the regulations necessary to implement protection against post-RSC orders for off-site migration in groundwater. To promote discussion of the issues, they released a summary of a multi-jurisdictional study of how such issues are addressed elsewhere.
4. Qualified Persons: The Qualified Persons debate has not advanced much in the last year, but the province must do something about it before the current deadline expires April 1. Given the time necessary to post a draft regulation on the EBR registry, the province will have to decide soon what it intends to do, or whether it will simply extend the deadline again for deciding. The Canadian Brownfield Network studied how this issue is handled across Canada, the US and Europe; perhaps its findings will give the province enough information to finally make a decision on who should be allowed to perform environmental site assessments, and on what terms.
Encouragingly, the Stakeholder Group is expected to meet quarterly in 2008; hopefully, the province will make enough progress next year to fill all four meetings.