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Ontarians Use Environmental Bill of Rights to Get New Rules on Disposal of Excess Soil

As Ontario’s big cities keep building up and out, developers must also dig down to build foundations, underground parking and other below-grade infrastructure. When these big holes are dug up, what happens to all that excess soil or “fill”? And what happens if some of it is “dirty fill” with contaminants?

Concerned about the lack of provincial rules on where all this fill ends up, in November 2013, some Ontario citizens, led by MPP Ted Arnott, filed an application for review under the Environmental Bill of Rights, requesting that the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) develop a new policy to regulate fill. They wanted a province-wide policy that would set out rules for safely disposing of fill. A new policy would help ensure that excess soil being trucked out of the cities and deposited or reused in other areas does not degrade the environment or affect the health of local residents where it is received.

This request got action. Last month, in January 2016, the MOECC completed its review of the application and concluded that a new provincial policy is indeed needed. The ministry posted a proposal for a new excess soil management policy on the Environmental Registry. The ministry made clear that citizen use of the Environmental Bill of Rights kick-started this long-awaited policy development.

The proposed new framework would shift more responsibility onto the generators of excess soil (the source site) by requiring them to: a) prepare plans upfront for appropriate reuse of the soil; and b) track and record the excess soil from “source to reuse.” The framework also proposes to provide more consistent and clear policies and guidance for all sites that receive excess soil. To achieve consistency, the province proposes to prepare technical direction, including standards for reusing excess soil and best practices for tracking the soil.

The ministry is accepting comments on this proposal until March 26, 2016. To submit your comments on the policy, or for more information on the government’s proposal, visit the Environmental Registry.

To learn more about how to use the application for review tool yourself, click here.

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