Making our brownfields green

Picture4Some problems we think are buried don’t stay buried; in fact they can grow over time if not addressed.

This is sometimes the case when industry does not properly address harmful substances underground and the substance spreads into the soil and groundwater in the area. Over time, sites like this can become apparent when vegetation does not grow; these areas are called brownfields.

What is a brownfield?

A brownfield is a vacant or underutilized property where past actions have resulted in actual or perceived contamination and where there is an active potential for productive community use.

Why does brownfield redevelopment matter?

Brownfields can be found in remote rural municipalities to large cities. AUMA’s Brownfield Impact Assessment report states the most common location of brownfields is downtown or on main streets, which means that they are highly visible and detract from community appeal and economic development.  Brownfields can also be found in other business areas, such as industrial zones, manufacturing districts and even residential area. This can drive away other activity, constrain development options and reduce the value of surrounding properties.

What contaminants do we look for?

Picture3In Alberta, we focus on harm – what substances at what concentrations may cause harm to human health or the environment. In determining this, we look at industrial activities that may release substances and risks associated with the activities and substances.  This could include the upstream oil and gas industry, gas stations, wood treatment facilities, dry cleaners, metal plating facilities, chemical plants, landfilling operations, septic systems, agricultural activities, mines and processing facilities. According to a Brownfield Impact Assessment AUMA conducted in 2014, more than half of all brownfields are former gas stations. For more information on substances which may cause harm at certain concentrations, check out Alberta’s soil and groundwater remediation guidelines.

What is remediation?

Alberta’s remediation certificate regulation defines remediation as “reducing, removing or destroying substances in soil, water or groundwater through the application of physical, chemical or biological processes”. Completion is assessed against Alberta’s soil and groundwater remediation guidelines, which take into account site conditions and land use.  When a substance is released or suspected, the responsible party is required to learn about the contamination (delineation), report it, create a remediation plan, remove or control the substance (e.g., remediation, risk management, exposure control) and report on the outcomes. Alberta’s Contaminated Sites Policy Framework lays this out in a diagram.

Remediation and redevelopment projects represent millions of dollars in economic opportunity and can create new residential or commercial opportunities. They also represent untold job opportunities for Albertans, both from remediation and site development.

How is remediation managed?

Picture2Alberta’s approach to managing contaminated sites is designed to achieve three outcomes:

  • pollution prevention – avoiding damage to the environment, human health or safety and property by limiting the impact of the unapproved release;
  • health protection – taking action on sites that is commensurate with risk to human health and the environment; and
  • productive use – encourage remediation and return of the site to community use.

Alberta will be reviewing the Remediation Certificate Regulation to provide clarity around what constitutes closure, reporting requirements and site-based remediation requirements.  These topics will be reviewed with external subject matter experts in the fall of this year, and will advance Alberta’s approach to managing contaminated sites and brownfield redevelopment.

How do we know a site has been remediated?

We know sites are remediated through reports provided by the owner on site conditions against Alberta’s soil and groundwater remediation guidelines and through remediation certificate applications. The Remediation Certificate program officially recognizes remediation projects that have achieved the department’s environmental protection objectives. Alberta Environment & Parks also has enforcement or compliance powers, which it can exercise if necessary.

Working better together

The Alberta Government is committed to working with industry and municipalities to clean-up contaminated sites and encourage brownfield redevelopment through supportive economic and regulatory measures, all of which contribute to healthy communities.

Several advances have been made in addressing recommendations in the Brownfield Redevelopment Working Group report, including hiring a brownfield coordinator  and implementing taxation power changes through the Municipal Government Act. The Brownfield Working Group was made up of municipal associations, industry groups and the province and produced a consensus report with a number of recommendations to support brownfield redevelopment.

Alberta continues to be committed to removing barriers to redevelopment while still holding polluters responsible and protecting the public.

The City of Edmonton’s brownfield redevelopment program is a prime example of what brownfield redevelopment can do.

We are moving towards consultation with key stakeholders on proposed regulatory changes to clarify remediation processes and facilitate brownfield redevelopment across the province and hope to have several more brownfields remediated in the future so we can build safe, healthy communities where once there was nothing.

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